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Charles Gray, World Equity Man

December 11th, 2011

Several years ago I read a book on voluntary poverty. It was a collection of writing by people who were choosing to be poor. The one that most struck me was Charles Gray. He thought the biggest problem with the world was inequality, and to fix that people needed to consume no more than their equal share. He calculated his share of world GDP [1] and called this the "world equity budget" [2]. Earning more than this would be unfair to others, because he would be taking their share. [3]

In many ways I admire him: he was trying to make the world better, and was willing to sacrifice enormously toward that end. Mostly, however, he just makes me sad: he could have done so much more good, helped so many more people, if he had taken an 'earn more, give more' approach. His story reminds me that it's neither the effort nor the thought that counts, and that it's not what you sacrifice that determines your effect on the world.

[1] World GDP/Capita is currently $9.2K. That's low, but it isn't actually all that low. Julia and I are currently living on $8.7K/person, plus health insurance, which I get from work. In 1979, however, per capita GDP was $2.2K in 2010 dollars. Which would be (was) way harder.

[2] He really liked to call things the "World Equity X". I recall at least the "World Equity Budget", the "World Equity Wage", and the "World Equity Gap".

[3] I'm working from memory in describing what he believed. I can find some of his writing online, but I can't find something where he lays out why he's decided he should live on the world equity budget.

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