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The golden billion (Russian: золотой миллиард, tr. zolotoy milliard) is a term, in the Russian-speaking world, referring to the relatively wealthy people in industrially developed nations, or the West.
According to Sergey Kara-Murza, the golden billion consumes the lion's share of all resources on the planet. If at least half of the global population begins to consume resources to the same extent, these resources wouldn't be sufficient. This is partly based on the ideas of Thomas Malthus, in that emphasis is placed on the scarcity of natural resources. However, whereas Malthus was mostly concerned with finite global crop yields, anti-globalists that advocate the idea of a 'golden billion' are mostly concerned with finite natural resources such as fossil fuels and metal. According to Kara-Murza, the developed countries, while preserving for their nationals a high level of consumption, endorse political, military and economic measures designed to keep the rest of the world in an industrially undeveloped state, and as a raw material appendage area for the dumping of hazardous waste and as a source of cheap labor.
The theory which holds that the wealth of the West, including that of the lower classes, is mostly based on exploitation of the former colonies in the third world is not new in Russia, where it was first popularized by Vladimir Lenin, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Lenin described the relationship between capitalism and imperialism, wherein the merging of banks and industrial cartels produces finance capital. The final, imperialist stage of capitalism, originates in the financial function of generating greater profits than the home market can yield; thus, business exports (excess) capital, which, in due course, leads to the economic division of the world among international business monopolies, and imperial European states colonising large portions of the world to generate investment profits.
Whereas Lenin and other Marxist anti-imperialists such as Immanuel Wallerstein called for an end to the domination of developed nations through international communism, Kara-Murza and his contemporaries in Russia believe that a restriction of free trade (especially with the West), and various methods of state intervention in the economy is the best solution. This economic rationale for protectionism dates back to the early United States, and is known as the infant industry argument. The crux of the argument is that nascent industries often do not have the economies of scale that their older competitors from other countries may have, and thus need to be protected until they can attain similar economies of scale. The argument was first explicated by Alexander Hamilton in his 1790 Report on Manufactures, was systematically developed by Daniel Raymond, and was later picked up by Friedrich List in his 1841 work The National System of Political Economy, following his exposure to the idea during his residence in the United States in the 1820s.
The differences in incomes in first-world countries and third-world countries cannot be explained by differences in individual productivity. For example, the Caterpillar (CAT) factory in Tosno, Russia has the highest productivity of all CAT factories in Europe, but the workers are paid about an order of magnitude less. The difference is even more startling when comparing the wages of textile workers in United States factories and in China sweatshops. This means that the multinational corporations appropriate a disproportionally high share of the surplus value in "developing" countries. The argument usually holds that the continuation of this exploitation retards the development and prosperity of the developing nations. Hence, globalization and modern capitalism benefit mostly the golden billion, while people in the so-called "developing" countries are getting the short end of the stick.
The term was coined by A.Kuzmich (Anatoly Tsikunov) in his book The Plot of World Government: Russia and the Golden Billion, and used in his articles. The main idea behind this term was taken from Limits to Growth - that there are enough resources for only one billion wealthy people on earth. The term was later popularized by Russian writer Sergey Kara-Murza.
Opponents of the concept
Opponents of the concept often invoke market efficiency to argue that free trade and capitalism will make everybody wealthy eventually. Proponents counter that the ongoing process of multinational corporations channeling wealth from poorer countries to richer ones dictates that the gap will not diminish.
Available data indicates convergence of income for many developing countries.
In his book The Ultimate Resource Julian Simon offers view that scarcity of physical resources can be overcome by human mind. For example the argument of scarcity of oil could be overcome by some of energy development strategies, such as use of synthetic fuels.
Concerning exploitation of the former colonies Gregory Clark notes "Yet generations of research by economic historians - David Landes, Deirdre McCloskey, and Joel Mokyr, among others - show that the wealth of the West was homegrown, the result of a stream of Western technological advances since the Industrial Revolution").
The use of term
An online search for the terms "gold billion" or "golden billion" suggest that the term is little known in the English-speaking world. One article about the role of libraries in helping people realize community potential references the concept:
- "The Specter of Immigration". Russia in Global Affairs. Retrieved 2008-01-14.[dead link]
- Кара-Мурза С. Манипуляция сознанием. М.: 2005
- Кара-Мурза С. Манипуляция сознанием. М.: 2005
- "Gapminder Site of world income statistics.". Retrieved 2010-06-13.
- "The Chronicle March 18, 2008". Retrieved 2010-06-14.
- "Community Indicators, Genuine Progress, and the Golden Billion. Reference & User Services Quarterly. Publication Date: 22-JUN-01.