Are U.N. Goals Eliminating Poverty or Spreading It Around?

For those who wonder why the U.S. pursues policies that seem not to be in the best interest of the American people – trade policy foremost amongst them – you can find the answer in the the United Nations’ “The Millenium Development Goals Report.”

The U.N. web site provides the following paragraph as a background explanation of the Millenium Develpment Goals:

 The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.

These goals were formally agreed to and adopted by the U.S. at the “Millenium Summit” meeting of the U.N. in September, 2000. 

In September 2000, building upon a decade of major United Nations conferences and summits, world leaders came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the United Nations Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets – with a deadline of 2015 – that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals.

There are eight goals set forth, each with various specific “targets” for achievement.  For the sake of brevity, I won’t list them all here.  You can find them at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml.  The goals are on the right hand side in red.  Click each to read the goal and its associated targets. 

Most of these are laudable goals:  cutting poverty, improving education, reducing child mortality, fighting AIDS, halting environmental degradation and so on.  But it’s the final goal that may shed light on the genesis of our global economic collapse:

Goal 8:  Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Target 1:  Address the special needs of least developed countries, landlocked countries and small island developing states.

Target 2:  Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system.

Target 3:  Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt.

Work on these development goals began in the early 1990’s.  Following a decade during which the U.S. trade deficit had peaked at $151 billion in 1987, by 1991 it had fallen back to only $31 billion, a mere 0.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.  Even as late as 1997 it was only $108 billion or 1.3% of GDP.  Few imagined that our trade deficit could present much of a problem. 

Then, as now, economists believed that there were no limits to growth for which there were no technological solutions.  Every worker displaced by trade  in a developed country like the U.S. would find new work providing products and services that we couldn’t even imagine.  Economic development would grow the demand for products just as fast as it unleashed new workers on the global labor market.  Through gains in efficiency, recycling and substitution, resources shortages could be avoided indefinitely; and technology could mitigate all consequences for the environment.  And then, as now, economists refused to acknowledge the possibility of overpopulation and had no understanding of the relationship between population density and per capita consumption, nor its potential for accelerating unemployment and poverty.   Against this backdrop, world leaders naively believed that living standards could be elevated for all without dragging down the living standards in the developed world and without addressing the rapidly escalating problem of overpopulation. 

And so, eager to lead the world in doing its share, the U.S. began aggressively eliminating what trade barriers remained, even as the World Trade Organization enforced such barriers in favor of undeveloped and developing countries like China and India.  Disparities in population density between the U.S. and such nations created an enormous imbalance in global trade that sowed the seeds of the great economic collapse of 2008.  Only six years after the millenium summit, the U.S. trade deficit exploded to nearly $800 billion – more than 6% of our GDP.  American assets were sold off at a furious rate to finance the deficit, and a mountain of debt was built to mask the effects of declining incomes and net worth. 

Poverty has been alleviated to some degree in some developing nations, but now we see that it has come with a price.  Unemployment is soaring with the world now glutted with excess labor and productive capacity.  Instead of eliminating poverty, this grand plan of the U.N. is merely diluting it and spreading it around.  Read the one-page forward to the U.N.’s report (use the above link), and you’ll get a picture of high-minded goals that are now in complete disarray.  The U.N. is now calling for rich nations to intensify their efforts and accelerate the delivery of aid.  But the nation that was richest at the time that these goals were adopted – the U.S. – has now been completely drained of every penny of its wealth in support of these goals, necessitating that any additional aid be funded on the backs of taxpayers or by the outright printing of money.  But it can’t be sustained, and that reality is slowly sinking in.   Although the world still clings desperately to its economic fantasyland where obstacles to endless growth and development can be magically wished away, that dream is beginning to slip from its grasp.

While these millenium goals of the U.N. might be attainable in a world that was reasonably populated, they never had a chance of success in the real world where an enormous glut of labor lay dormant in grossly overpopulated nations like China and India.  Once unleashed on the global market, their nearly limitless productive capacity, combined with markets emaciated by over-crowding, has decimated the once-healthy economies of the developed world. 

Without addressing overpopulation, these millenium goals are doomed to failure.  And the field of economics should shoulder the lion’s share of the blame.  The time is long past for economists to drop their platitudes about the ingenuity of mankind and their childish refusal to consider the ramifications of population growth and start behaving like real scientists.  Start pondering what endless population growth does to an economy.  How will people live?  What will be the effect on the size of their homes, on their ability to own and operate vehicles, on their ability to enjoy recreational pastimes?  What will this do to per capita consumption?  To per capita employment?  If economists did begin asking such questions, they’d soon realize that decent living standards for all are impossible in a state of overpopulation.  A new economics would emerge.

Then will be the time for world leaders to reconvene and adopt a new set of goals, grounded in reality, freed of illogical assumptions and focused like a laser on the real issues that hold back human development.

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6 Responses to Are U.N. Goals Eliminating Poverty or Spreading It Around?

  1. mtnmike says:

    Pete,

    Excellent piece and you bring up a subject that I constantly harp on.

    You said, “Unemployment is soaring with the world now glutted with excess labor and productive capacity.”

    Technology is a double edged sword! Massive production and resource extraction is possible with little manual input.

    The other element that is conveniently left out by the cornicopian’s is that of TIME. Of mans 4,000 years of written history, the lions share of resource depletion and industrial growth has occupied only the past 100 years! Of that 100 years, the past 60 represent the lion’s share.

  2. Mark A. Hall says:

    Unfortunately, our government probably won’t realize how bad it is actually getting here until we get our first UNICEF shipment and it is labeled “DONATED BY CHINA”.

  3. Dave Gardner says:

    Well thought out and well stated, Pete. I will be pointing people to this excellent post. Only one problem: it makes too much sense; few economists will be able to comprehend! 🙂

    Dave Gardner
    Producer/Director
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
    Join the cause at http://www.growthbusters.com

  4. mtnmike says:

    Mark,

    Point well taken. We don’t loan China money to support their government, they loan us money to support ours.

    We currently increase our debt at the rate of $2 Billion per day. UNICEF may not be that far off.

    Interestingly enough, our daily debt increase is eerily similar to our daily trade deficit.

  5. Mark A. Hall says:

    In an article posted today with regard to the I.M.F. and World Bank, Marita Hughes, a senior policy advisor with Oxfam International, said 85 million people will be pushed into poverty this year as a direct result of the global recession.

    However, she neglected to mention that half of this 85 million will probably be here in the U.S.

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