August 31, 2006

Fat Cats!

I'll admit it. It's sometimes hard to talk about global inequality. Not because the subject leaves me queasy or uncomfortable, but because it's difficult to present the relevant facts in a way that hasn't already been done a thousand times before. Declare that a billion people live on less than a dollar a day and eyes start glazing over. Something new is needed. Something novel. So here's something I stumbled across while clicking around on the faculty page of the economics department at Northeastern (don't ask).

In this paper, M. Shahid Alam estimates—and this is back of the envelope on his part, so quibble if you want—that Americans spent roughly $360 billion on their dogs and cats in 2003. That number includes about $30 billion in direct expenditures, as estimated by the American Pet Products Manufacturer's Association (a figure that has risen to nearly $40 billion this year), plus time spent taking care of those pets, which Alam values at $10 per hour—a good deal given the lavish attention many dogs and cats receive.

$360 billion, needless to say, is a staggering amount. Consider that those 143 million dogs and cats had, in 2003, a total income larger than the economy of Pakistan (which, that year, had about 160 million people and a GDP of roughly $306 billion [PPP]). Obviously pet economies and people economies aren't strictly comparable, but let's just go with it. Those well-fed and much-adored pets had a per capita consumption of about $2,532, while the 2.3 billion people who lived in the lowest-income countries had a per capita consumption of about $2,190. Roughly a third of the people on the planet, apparently, would be materially better off as a household pet in the United States. Hmmm...

UPDATE: No, this post wasn't meant in all seriousness. Yes, comparing the "incomes" of dogs and humans is problematic. But consider this! Private contributions towards development assistance in the United States amount to about $34 billion annually. That's less than the amount we spend directly on pets each year. Not that I'm against pets or anything. I just thought it was striking. That's all.
-- Brad Plumer 6:07 PM || ||