|Published on Sunday, March 6, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Global Disparities: Of People And Pets
by M. Shahid Alam
JUDGING FROM THE ever-more accurate measurements of global disparities that
flow from the world's leading humanitarian organizations - with the World
Bank, IMF, WTO and OECD taking the lead - it would be no exaggeration to
state that scholarly interest in this subject has now turned into a nearly
These estimates of global disparities still follow the established practice
of comparing some characteristic, X, of economic development as it applies
to people in rich and poor countries. Most commonly, X refers to per capita
income. At other times, X refers to various indicators of the quality of
life, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, adult literacy, or some
combination of the previous three.
We need a different approach to the measurement of global disparities. The
disparities between the rich and poor people are now so large, one has to
ask if these comparisons make sense any more. When 25 million of the
richest people living in the United States enjoy nearly as much income as 2
billion of the world's poorest people, one begins to wonder if the 'people'
in the two groups are the same. It is likely that if knowledge of these
comparisons became common, they could lead to the revival of old racist
attitudes in the United States. Alternatively, they could induce feelings
of deep despair among the world's 2 billion poorest people. And this could
turn them into recruits for al-Qaida.
This is why I am proposing an alternative measure of global disparities.
Instead of comparing X across people in poor and rich countries, I am
suggesting that we make these comparisons for people in poor countries and
mammalian pets in rich countries. In other words, economists at the World
Bank, IMF, WTO and OECD should devote some of their resources to tracking
how the economies of poor countries - especially in Africa, Latin America
and Asia - are faring relative to the economies of pets in the rich countries.
I doubt if the world's leading crusaders for a better world will heed my
call anytime soon; they are still fully committed to demonstrating that
globalization, the greatest humanitarian project the world has ever seen,
is slowly narrowing the gap between the world's rich and poor people -
never mind how large the gap is currently. In the event, I will be so bold
as to offer my own admittedly crude comparisons of the economies of the
poor people and the pet economies of the rich. A sophisticated estimation
of these disparities must wait until I can raise several thousand US
dollars to pay for the proprietary data on the pet economies of the rich
We begin this exercise by first establishing some basic facts about the pet
economy in the United States. Lest this be taken as an indication of my
latent partiality for this great capitalist democracy, I have to protest
that I would just as willingly have used the European Union for making my
comparisons. Unfortunately, there does not yet exist a European counterpart
to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), which might
have provided some of the basic data on which I base my analysis of the pet
economy in the United States.
First, let us establish the size of the mammalian pet economy in the United
States; we define mammals to include dogs and cats. According to the APPMA,
the total US pet industry expenditures for 2003 were $32.4 billion. I
assume that 90 percent of this total was allocated to the canine and feline
portion of the pet economy; this gives a total expenditure on this segment
of the pet economy of $29.2 billion. Although impressive, these numbers
seriously underestimate the true size of America's pet economy.
To the figures provided by APPMA must be added the value of the time that
dog and cat owners dedicate to the care of their pets. Caring for pets can
be a daily activity. Naturally, the pets have to be fed daily; they have to
be groomed; they have to be taken out for walks; they have to be taken to
the vets for shots, worming, injuries and illnesses. And let us not forget
that many pet owners, following the advice of holistic veterinarians, avoid
ready-to-eat foods for their pets. Instead they prepare home-cooked meals
for their dogs and cats. In order to guide them in preparing healthy pet
foods, the National Academies published in 2003 a revised edition of
Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs, a 500-page report prepared by an
international team of experts, providing a most comprehensive assessment of
the daily nutrient and calorie requirements for dogs and cats.
But that is not all. America's cats and dogs are a pampered lot. According
to the results of a survey of 1100 pet owners by American Animal Hospital
Association in 1999, 100 percent of the respondents indicated that they
give their pets a Christmas or Hanukkah present; 87 percent include their
pets in holiday celebrations; 65 percent sing or dance for a pet; 53
percent take time off from work to care for a sick pet; 52 percent prepare
special meals for their pets; and 44 percent take their pets to work.
Clearly, a majority of pet owners in the United States bestow tender loving
care on their mammalian pets.
In order to arrive at an estimate of the true size of the pet economy
(mammalian section), we would have to add to the APPMA's estimate of
expenditures on pet products and services, the value of the time that pet
owners devote to their cats and dogs. We make the modest assumption that
dog owners spend one hour each day on their dogs, and cat owners spend 20
minutes each day on their cats. At the same time, we assign a value of US$
10 per hour to the pet owner's time. With 65 million dogs and 77.7 million
cats, the value of dog-and-cat owners' time comes to $330.9 billion.
Altogether, the value of total expenditures on dogs and cats in the US
economy was $360.1 billion in 2003.
Judging from its size, this is no paltry economy. How does this pet economy
compare with the poor economies of the world? To give the poor economies
the greatest advantage in the comparisons, we will measure their size in
terms of international dollars. By this metric, America's pet economy is
1.2 times larger than the economy of Pakistan with a population of 148
million; it is 1.4 times larger than the economy of Bangladesh with a
population of 138 million; it is 2.7 times larger than the economy of
Nigeria, with a population of 122 million; and it is 10.6 times larger than
the economy of Congo (Democratic Republic) with a population of 34 million;
and 24 times the size of the Albanian economy with a population of 3.2
million. In other words, the US pet economy is larger than most of the poor
economies in 2003.
How does the US pet economy compare with the world's poor economies on a
per capita basis? In 2003, the 142.7 million dogs and cats in the United
States enjoyed a per capita consumption of $2523. The per capita income of
world's 2.3 billion people in low income countries (LICs) was $2190 in 2003
international dollars. This means that the average mammalian pet in the US
had a considerably higher standard of living than the average man, woman
and child living in the LICs.
The American dogs and cats enjoyed a much larger advantage in their living
standards over many individual LICs. The advantage over Sierra Leoneans was
4.8 to one; 4.1 over Tanzanians; 2.8 over Nigerians; 1.3 over Bangladeshis;
and 1.2 over Pakistanis. The average Indian had a small advantage of 1.1
over American dogs and cats. The Chinese had a larger lead of 2.0. It is
heartening to note that these disparities are considerably smaller than the
yawning gaps that emerge when we compare people in the rich countries
against people in the poor countries.
One might think that these more upbeat comparisons give reasons for
optimism for the world's poor. Given the smaller disparities between the
poor people and rich pets, the poor people can at least dream that once the
great humanitarian project of globalization begins to yield its
trickle-down benefits to the poor, they will, in the not-too-distant
future, be able to catch up with the dogs and cats in the United States.
Or is this hope only a delusion? That will depend on how fast the two
economies grow: to what degree they benefit from globalization. The promise
of globalization is to make the rich richer so that some of their
prosperity can trickle down to their pets and the poor peoples. Although I
hate to be a spoiler of this ingenious narrative - very ably modeled by Ivy
League economists - with some trembling, I must vent some dark thoughts on
this subject. I fear that the pets will come out better as globalization
unfolds. As I see it, the reason for this is quite simple. The rich are
much more likely to coddle their pets than the poor of the world, unless
they employ them as maids, mail-order brides or au pairs. This is not
because of any prejudice the rich have against the world's poor people.
It's just that the poor people live in difficult-to-reach, mostly hot and
humid countries, whereas the pets share the same living quarters with the rich.
Does this mean that if the poor people could be used as pets by the rich,
this would greatly improve their chances of deriving stronger gains from
globalization? If this is indeed true, we can confidently expect that the
US delegate to the World Trading Organization will soon propose appropriate
changes in the global trading regime to allow for the large-scale adoption
of children from poor countries as pets by people in the rich countries. I
have no doubt that this proposal will command unanimous support from all
the civilized peoples of the world - who, thankfully, inhabit the rich
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University in
Boston. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at