By Nancy Birdsall
Robert Barro takes a bit of a cheap shot at the UN in his recent column. In 1999 the Human Development Report (a staff report prepared at the United Nations Development Program) described a world in which the rich, in both rich and poor countries are both richer, healthier, better schooled, and in general a lot luckier with vastly greater economic freedoms and opportunities than the much larger numbers of poor, mostly in the world’s poor countries. But it is dead wrong to suggest that the UN blames these problems on “unchecked globalization and market expansion.” On the contrary. The 2001 version of that same report (Making New Technologies Work for Human Development) emphasized that more open global markets and new technologies are creating and spreading enormous opportunities for reducing poverty and narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor.
Global markets are not the cause of world poverty or global inequality. But they are also not alone the solution. Robert Barro is right that poverty has declined enormously in fast-growing China and India, and that reducing world poverty further requires focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and on its failure to grow. But he would do well to spend less ink on the silly debate about whether “globalization” is good or bad, and more on the concrete suggestions for raising human development and reducing human misery, including via more effective and open global markets. I invite him to review the UN’s 2001 report and the forthcoming 2002 report, both of which emphasize how to spread to the world’s poor the economic and political freedoms which most BusinessWeek take for granted.
President, Center for Global Development, Washington D.C.
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