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Trading up

Money | The much-maligned global economy is quietly raising living standards for the poor

Issue: "States' rights," Oct. 27, 2007

A quiet economic revolution is underway throughout the world. You won't see many headlines about it, but poor people nearly everywhere are escaping poverty in droves.

That's the message of a new book from the UN's Millennium Project titled 2007 State of the Future. While authors Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. Gordon argue that some global problems are getting worse-such as corruption and terrorism-they also point to data showing that literacy, life expectancy, and living standards are on the rise.

In 1970, the authors note, 37 percent of people over age 15 were illiterate, compared to just 18 percent today. Worldwide life expectancy, meanwhile, has grown from 48 years in 1955 to a predicted 73 years in 2025. Rates of extreme poverty are also falling, from 28 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2005, according to the World Bank.

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The increase in global trade of recent years is powering these positive trends. Thirty percent trade growth last year led to the third straight year of 6 percent GDP growth for the least developed countries, raising per capita income 4.3 percent in just one year. "At this rate," report Glenn and Gordon, "world poverty will be cut by more than half between 2000 and 2015, meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal for poverty reduction except in sub-Saharan Africa."

This has all happened as U.S. incomes and living standards have increased since the 1970s, as well, meaning that the rise of poor nations has not been at the expense of wealthy nations.

While Glenn and Gordon found room for gloom in their report, their overall point is clear and positive: The poor we may always have with us, but their numbers are falling and their lifestyles are improving. And, by implication, anyone who claims to care about the material condition of the world's poor, and then opposes free trade, should be laughed out of the room.

Balance Sheet

ENTITLEMENTS: Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, born one second after midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, making her the nation's first baby boomer, last week became the first of her generation to apply for Social Security benefits. "This is the first drop of rain in the flood," Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition told the Bloomberg news service. "It's the beginning of an era. It's symbolic but it reminds us that we're not doing anything to prepare for this." Advocates for reform note that the U.S. Social Security and Medicare systems are not prepared financially for the retirement of the baby boom generation. Casey-Kirschling will be eligible for benefits when she turns 62 in January.

MEDIA: Pledging to serve Main Street viewers instead of Wall Street, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. last week launched the new Fox Business Network. The plan, morning show anchor Alexis Glick told The New York Times, is to "deliver business news in a Foxy way." The network will compete against CNBC and Bloomberg Television.

TRADE: Exports rose by 0.4 percent and imports fell by the same percentage, making the U.S. trade deficit in August the smallest gap in seven months. The Commerce Department reported on Oct. 11 that the August trade gap had fallen to $57.6 billion, in part because of record food, chemical, and steel exports.

Timothy Lamer
Timothy Lamer

Tim is managing editor of WORLD magazine.

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