What is the total sum of human potential?

Friday, June 10, 2011

There must be a paper somewhere on this subject already, but the right keywords to find one escape me at the moment.

Whenever one hears the phrase "what a waste", this is a reference to the human potential we believe should be discovered and developed, not squandered. Military spending is often said to be a waste, intelligent minds growing up in poverty and/or under a tyrannical government is a waste, unrecognized potential is a waste, dying young unnecessarily due to easily preventable diseases is a waste.

The opposite of this are the countries that we deem to be about as ideal as one could imagine at the moment at the beginning of the 21st century: your Luxembourgs, your Norways, Swedens, Denmarks, some would say Japan or Singapore, also Canada, Australia and the rest. None of these are absolutely perfect but they have something in common: people there are free to do and say what they want, the media is largely lacking in bias, those who want to succeed can do so if they put their minds to it, and a chance sickness or accident will not result in bankruptcy. Nobody is being denied entrance to university in Denmark because their family does not support the current government.

So let's set a relatively low bar for the ultimate limit of our human potential in the present. Our ideal situation is not a complete utopia, it's just what we've accomplished in a number of countries carried over to the rest of them. A worldwide Germany, let's say. We'll also want to cut military spending by about 80% since we're talking about a nearly ideal but still realistically achievable level. Military spending will still be around for patrolling waters, sending in troops for emergencies and so on, but we'll assume that most unnecessary spending has been cut to a minimum.

First of all, the world GDP. Current world GDP is $63 trillion. At almost 7 billion people that works out to $9000 per person. Our ideal world average (Germany) is $41000 per capita, so that's $287 trillion total - 4.5 times greater total output. Bump this up to a Denmark or greater level per capita and our total output could be some 8 times greater than now.

Total military expenditures: at the bottom of this page we see a total of $1.63 trillion spent on the military per year across the world. Added to that are a lot of pseudo-military and unreported figures, but we'll go with $1.63 trillion for now. Cutting that by 80% frees up $1.3 trillion for other things, the equivalent of adding one extra Spain. Considering the budgetary situation of a lot of countries right now we would probably just want to put most of this toward their account deficits.

On top of this though, our assumption that a large decrease in military spending is precipitated by increased peace means that we are erasing most warm and cold conflict zones. The border between Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia would be open, the US and Cuba would of course finally have a normal relationship, North and South Korea would not have a militarized border, and so on. I have no idea how to calculate the effects of that without some spending some serious time looking up the situation in each of these locations.

Literacy: total world illiteracy is around 18% right now, and achieving a worldwide Germany means a reduction to almost nothing - let's say 1%. That's 1.2 billion more people that can read that couldn't before, one extra China or India.

And...once again, I'm pretty much out of time (it's not the weekend yet). A very rough estimate though would seem to indicate that we as a whole are probably functioning at about 5% of our possible, yet realistic potential. That is, ideally we could be progressing one or two dozen times faster in pretty much every endeavour we are currently engaged in.

However, I am willing to be corrected on this. Are there any papers available on exactly this subject? Total *ideal yet realistic* human potential, that is. What the world would look like if everywhere was about as well-developed and peaceful as Germany, Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, etc. Sources or opinions, please.


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