- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

During the annual World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings this week, the streets of Washington will provide the latest venue for antiglobalization protesters.

And once again the Sturm and Drang over globalization will focus largely on whether it has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. But, as opponents of globalization often note, human well-being is not synonymous with wealth. The central issue is not whether income gaps are growing but whether globalization advances well-being. And if income gaps in well-being have expanded, whether that's because the rich have advanced at the expense of the poor.

Consider the trends in life expectancy, perhaps the single most important indicator of human well-being. Before industrialization, life expectancy at birth was about 30 years. But because the rich countries discovered, developed and adopted modern public health and medical technologies first, large gaps in life expectancy opened between rich and poor countries by the mid-1900s. But those gaps have since shrunk because of the diffusion of those technologies owing to trade and the transfer of ideas, goods, and services from rich to poor. Between 1960 and 1990, this gap between high-income OECD countries (HiOECD) and middle-income countries shrank from 24.5 to 8.1 years, while that between HiOECD and sub-Saharan Africa declined from 29.4 to 26.4 years.

Similar patterns were exhibited by trends related to other measures of well-being, e.g., freedom from hunger, infant mortality and child labor, between the 1960s and the late 1990s. In each case, the indicators generally improved with wealth and the passage of time, and gaps in the indicators shrank the least for sub-Saharan Africa and the most for medium-income countries.

However, from 1990 to 1999 life expectancy gaps widened. That gap between HiOECD and middle-income countries increased slightly from 8.1 to 8.6 years. That's mainly because life expectancies in mid-income Eastern European and former Soviet Union nations declined along with their economies. Meanwhile the gap between HiOECD and sub-Saharan Africa increased from 26.4 to 31.2, largely due to HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB, aggravated by additional economic disruption due to civil wars and cross-border conflicts.

Those increases in the life expectancy gap occurred because, when faced with new diseases (e.g., AIDS) or the resurgence of ancient ones (e.g., malaria and tuberculosis), the poor lacked the economic and human resources to develop effective treatments or to import and adapt treatments invented and developed in the rich countries.

Consider AIDS. Initially, it was a death sentence in both developing and developed countries. But the latter, particularly the United States, possessing the necessary economic and human resources, launched a massive assault on that disease. Consequently, between 1995 and 1999, AIDS deaths in the United States dropped by two-thirds even as cases increased by half. And AIDS, once the eighth leading cause of death, dropped off the top 15 list.

Although the technology exists and is, theoretically, available worldwide, similar improvements have not occurred in sub-Saharan Africa; citizens there cannot afford the medicines and other advances. This unfortunate state of affairs exists not only for expensive-to-treat diseases (e.g., AIDS) but also relatively cheap-to-treat diseases (e.g., TB and malaria). A more globalized and wealthier Africa would be better able to improve its well-being by combating both sets of diseases. Not surprisingly, the U.N.-sponsored Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in developing countries is, of necessity, subsidized mainly by governments, charities and private donors from the rich nations.

Although neither globalization nor wealth are ends in themselves, globalization increases wealth. That, in turn, advances more direct measures of human well-being by providing the resources to improve these measures. But whether or not globalization has increased income inequality, gaps between rich and poor in these more critical measures have by and large shrunk since the mid-1900s. Notably, where those gaps in well-being have shrunk the least or even expanded in recent years, it is because of too little rather than too much globalization.

The rich are not better off because they have taken something from the poor. Rather, the poor are better off because they have benefited from the technologies developed by the rich their situation would have improved further had they been better able to capture the benefits of globalization. If the rich can be faulted, it is that by subsidizing favored economic sectors and maintaining import barriers they have retarded globalization and made it harder for many developing countries to capture its benefits.

Indur Goklany is the author of the Cato Institute study, "The Globalization of Human Well-Being."

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