Here, in a very interesting and provocative article, the Economist compares the lives and fortunes of a fellow on disability in Eastern Kentucky and a physician in Africa.
The man from Hazard gets $521 per month in SSI benefits. The doctor in the Congo gets about $600-700 per month.
The author explains and asks:
"Why juxtapose the lives of a poor man in a rich country and a relatively well-off man in a poor one? The exercise is useful for two reasons. First, it puts the rich world's wealth into context. A Congolese doctor, a man most other Congolese would consider wealthy, is worse off materially than most poor people in America. That, in itself, is striking.
The second purpose of the exercise is to shed light on some ticklish questions. What is the relationship between wealth and happiness? And what is the significance of relative poverty? Mr Banks makes $521 a month in a country where median male earnings are $3,400 a month. Dr Kabamba earns $600 a month in a country where most people grow their own food and hardly ever see a bank note. The two men's experiences could hardly be less similar. But which of the two would one expect to be happier?"
The author concludes:
"The point of this article is neither to mock Mr Banks nor to praise Dr Kabamba. Both have their virtues and flaws, and your correspondent cannot reliably judge which is the happier. But here are two concluding observations. First, if poor Americans were to compare their standard of living with what is normal elsewhere in the world, let alone in Congo, they would see they have little cause for discontent. Then again, were Americans not so incurably discontented with their lot, their great country would not be half as dynamic as it is."
Read the whole thing.