As I see it, there are two main camps when it comes to progress and development. There are many who point to the ways the world has improved for everyone thanks to capitalism. They have a lot of evidence to point to, and it’s encouraging. For example, there’s a video I love from the brilliant Hans Rosling, which demonstrates the rising tide of development (economic and otherwise) over the past 200 years. It’s so fun to watch that for four minutes one couldn’t possibly be blamed for forgetting why economics has been aptly dubbed the dismal science.
It’s truly remarkable, isn’t it? I think so. And as one working in the field of international development, it gives me hope that tackling poverty’s causes (and effects) is not necessarily a completely futile undertaking. Incredible progress has been made.
But business-as-usual isn’t really good enough, says the other camp, pointing to the widening gap between the rich and the poor, which Rosling touches on in the video. A new UN report has more on the growing disparity in our world. The tide may be rising, but it’s rising unevenly.
The Guardian‘s Poverty Matters blog makes a compelling case for the importance of not leaving the least developed countries behind.
Seeing the LDCs [least developed countries] emerge from development stagnation is a humanitarian challenge that is also in the interests of all of us. It is a forward movement that can also be an effective rearguard action, potentially sealing off global threats brought on by regional instability, extremist violence, transnational crime and infectious diseases.
It’s not in anyone’s best interest to let the disparity continue to grow. Focusing entirely on the average water level rising (which is what Rosling’s fantastic video mostly does) while ignoring the myriad indicators of inequality (which he also touches on) only creates further unrest in the long term.
I’d conclude with this: a low tide isn’t good for any of us, and the folks who get hung up on the widening gap need to come to terms with that. But living in a world of greater and greater disparity between and within countries is a problem I wish more of the “rising tide” evangelists would take seriously. If different camps of thinkers and dreamers and doers got together, refraining from trumpeting their respective air-tight economic and social ideologies long enough to get to know what life is like for actual people on the margins, we could maybe, just maybe, help close the gap without lowering the tide.