In the year 2000 the UN set some Millennium Development Goals. They were and still are pretty good goals. And, even more impressively, a lot of progress has been made.
Since 1990 the global infant mortality rate has halved. So has the extreme poverty index. In effect, the huge global problem of poverty and infant death has been halved all around the world in just 25 years. It is also true that global life longevity has also increased by almost three years. And there has been a huge increase in the world’s children getting at least an elementary education (mostly because more primal, uber-paternalistic cultures are now allowing more girls to attend school). There is no question that the world is a better place overall and that the improvement has been pretty quick.
How did it happen? Mostly by way of globalization. First world countries lost jobs to third world countries. China exploded as an economic juggernaut and so did India. They, together, make up over 40% of the world’s population. The improvement has been the result of the much vaunted trickle-down effect from rich countries to poor ones.
But the trickle came from the middle class segment of the developed world not from the rich folks (exception: Bill gates and a few other biggies). The rich just got richer and the middle class of Canada and the rest of the G8 simply lost wealth to the third world’s poor.
And it shouldn’t be that way.
Is it so bad? Is it not OK to lose a $1.25 a day ($1.25 a day was the extreme poverty cut-off in 1990 and now half of those people get almost $3.00) to save a family in Somalia? Of course it is OK. But it is not $1.25 a day to a Canadian because there are so few Canadians compared to the so many, many extreme poor. The G8 middle and lower class actually lose something on the scale of twenty times that in order to raise the level of income for so many of the third world’s poor. The average Canadian has ‘lost’ more like $500 to $1000 a month in real purchasing power since 1990 and way too much of that went to the rich.
So globalization is a boon to the super-rich, the world’s poor and an unfair burden to the first worlds’ middle class.
Given that that great unwashed will never be rich anyway, it’s probably not so bad. So we eventually can’t afford as much crap from Walmart, so what? Maybe this is as good a way as any to help the desperately poor. Mind you, the unfair apportionment is also the root cause of our suffering medical care, education and other social institutions. Essentially we are being driven down at an accelerated rate so that the world’s poor can get a bit of a leg up.
But what of the other goals? There were 8 in total. 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. 2. Achieve universal primary education. 3. Promote gender equality and empower women. 4. Reduce infant mortality. 5. Improve maternal health. 6. Wage war on communicable diseases (Aids, Malaria, etc.) 7. Ensure environmental sustainability. 8. Global partnership for development (read: more free trade).
It is arguable that – in some significant ways – all but one of those goals is being met or at least addressed. The notable exception is the Achilles heal for the other 7. An exploitation of the planet’s resources that is at a rate of non-sustainabilty will eventually undermine any progress in the other seven and will, in the extreme, undermine life on the planet. We are progressing in ways that ultimately won’t count if we don’t address the most important item, #7 on the list.
And what about the felt (but still unconscious) unfairness being inflicted on the developed world’s middle class? Won’t they get annoyed? Might they not revolt? Could they get out of hand? Well, the answer to that it seems is increased security, more rules and controls, rise of the police state.
The math? The price for the 7 improvements (as managed by the super-rich) is the creation of two really big problems. How will that play out in the end? Maybe if the super-rich got in the game and played fair, we could achieve the same benefits with fewer costs?