NEW YORK -- With
the World Development Summit almost upon Jo'burg, we can expect
lengthy diatribes about the great evils keeping people in poverty.
You won't hear the truth
though since international summits have become a cottage industry
for nailing capitalism. The Jo'burg Summit's theme can already be
predicted – the have nots will shortly and surely explode in rage if
the haves don't soon share their comforts and bridge the "wealth
The facts are rather
different; vastly so after a mere three decades since international
agencies, NGOs and activist groups latched onto apocalyptic homilies
as the best means to fund themselves.
Remember when we were going
to have consumed all available oil before 2000? Recall when the
world would be seared by a depleted ozone layer? Recollect that even
before 1990, the world was supposed to run out of food? Neither
should we forget that the poor were going to get poorer, while the
rich would grow fatter and more grasping.
Not so writes Columbia
University economist, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, in a recently published
paper. Whereas, in 1970, more than two fifths of the global
population lived in poverty, just one fifth suffered so in 1998.
Put another way, absolute
poverty more than halved in this period even as the world's
population increased by a similar amount.
Over the same time we have
replaced and added to oil reserves. Food production has become so
efficient that just a few thousand farms are capable of providing
the entire earth's caloric requirements. Fewer non-renewable
resources are consumed even though industrial output has risen
geometrically, and the major urban areas are cleaner than they have
It is a profound
accomplishment; a testimony to human ingenuity, perseverance and
It also an inescapable fact
that virtually all the gains have come from the laboratories and
balance sheets of Anglo-Saxon capitalist enterprise. Only the
mendaciously ignorant could suggest it was accidental; the byproduct
of misbegotten inheritances.
Countries that adopt free
market solutions prosper and nowhere is it more evident than in the
gap between Africa and Asia. Africa is the only region that has gone
backwards in the last third of a century, squandering entirely its
liberation from colonialism.
Whereas Africa represented
little more than one-tenth of the world's poor in 1970, it now
accounts for two thirds of the total. Asia had a radically reversed
experience according to Sala-i-Martin's data, moving from nearly
four fifths of the world's poor thirty two years ago to just one
seventh today. Latin America has stood still.
Most of Asia's gains came
from China and India which have one thing in common – they abandoned
their hybrid Marxist-Leninist claptrap, which focused on social
engineering, in favour of freer enterprise that promotes individual
liberty. They have a long way to go, but famine and misery aren't as
common as they once were.
Despite the evidence, the
UN continues to be the chief protagonist in warning that market
mechanisms harm the poor, especially in terms of "globalisation".
The UN's solution, echoed by the likes of Greenpeace and Sub-Saharan
Africa's governments is not to emulate China and India's accelerated
growth, but to retard developed country growth.
The radicals sincerely
believe, in the face of a thousand failures, that giving bureaucrats
more power and money will solve Africa's problems.
That's not a message that
Jo'burg's summiteers should be willing to hear. But who will be
there to boo the nonsense since those who do make a difference will
be at work?