We humans are a funny lot. Faced with potential catastrophe, we fret that the sky is about to fall on our heads. Then we tend to defeat the looming disaster. Then we deny the victory, content rather to be fearful. Take progress in the developing world these past few decades of globalisation.
The demise of communism meant far more than just physical walls falling – it saw the removal or lessening of barriers to trade, travel and exchanges of knowledge and communications across most of the world. This new age of global interconnectedness, “globalisation”, has brought with it enormous progress for especially poorer countries.
According to the United Nations Development Programme’s 2013 Human Development Report – The rise of the South, “dozens of countries and billions of people” are moving up the development ladder in ways “unprecedented in speed and scale”. It includes South Africa in its grouping of countries that are making “rapid advances” alongside Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey.
The UNDP notes that for the first time, the combined economic output of Brazil, China and India equals that of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US combined. This happens as heads of state gather in New York to ponder what progress has been made in achieving the optimistic Millennium Development Goals that were set in 1990.
There is much to celebrate, although you wouldn’t think so from the gnashing of teeth to be heard at the UN. For one, the goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, set for 2015, was already reached in 2008, although this is seldom mentioned. And when poverty lessens, all manner of opportunity to human progress opens up.
Just don’t tell Pope Francis, leader of a church that claims a recorded 3.5bn baptisms and thus to speak for half the world’s people. In a fact-free speech to Sardinian miners last month, the Pope lambasted globalisation as responsible for high unemployment, saying that “We don’t want this globalised economic system that does us so much harm”. He says that globalisation is a thing that makes a god of money.
But, as the Cato Institute points out, the “globalisation of human wellbeing” goes far beyond just money to include measures that track freedom from hunger, mortality rates, child labour, education, access to safe water, and so on. In these, gaps between rich counties and the up-and-coming have “shrunk dramatically since the mid-1990s irrespective of trends in income inequality”. That includes SA, where rising per capita income across the board has also seen rising life expectancy and falling infant mortality even while income inequalities have been falling since 2005.
Meanwhile UNAIDS reports that the HIV/Aids epidemic will be over by 2030, confounding predictions of a human holocaust. Already the number of deaths from the disease have fallen a third just since 2005. This largely unheralded victory comes from a combination of capitalist investment in research, state medical interventions and rollouts, and the hard work of NGOs and churches across the developing world. It is a victory of globalisation and its victors include the church that Pope Francis heads.
The fact is that poverty is lessening, poorer countries are getting richer, people are living longer and healthier lives, and that these trends show no signs of reversing. It is a good time for humanity, and political and religious leaders ought to be pleased about the globalisation of human endeavour that brings this about.
– Paul Pereira (first published in The Citizen, 3 October 2013)