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Human Development: More Bigtime Divergence

The reference is to a Journal of Economic Perspectives paper that I was lucky enough to commission from Lant Pritchett, and that he titled: "Divergence, Bigtime." The argument was that over the past century and a half--at least until 1980--as the world became richer and more populous it also became a vastly more unequal place.

Ed Hugh comments:

A Fistful of Euros: More Bigtime Divergence: As people may have noted, last weekend Tobais and I were in Stockholm. One of the topics I wanted to post on but couldn't was the latest Human Development report from the UN.... The report itself is a lengthy document.... A convenient overview can also be found here.

First of all not everything is gloomy. As the report notes:

On average, people in developing countries are healthier, better educated and less impoverished.... Since 1990 life expectancy in developing countries has increased by 2 years. There are 3 million fewer child deaths annually and 30 million fewer children out of school. More than 130 million people have escaped extreme poverty. These human development gains should not be underestimated.

However, there are pluses and minuses.... 18 countries - 12 in Sub-Saharan Africa and six former Soviet Republics...

with a combined population of 460 million people registered lower scores on the human development index (HDI) than in 1990%--an unprecedented reversal. In the midst of an increasingly prosperous global economy, 10.7 million children every year do not live to see their fifth birthday, and more than 1 billion people survive in abject poverty on less than $1 a day. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has inflicted the single greatest reversal in human development. In 2003 the pandemic claimed 3 million lives and left another 5 million people infected. Millions of children have been orphaned.

Aids is certainly an important part of the problem:

Life expectancy gaps are among the most fundamental of all inequalities. Today, someone living in Zambia has less chance of reaching age 30 than someone born in England in 1840--and the gap is widening. HIV/AIDS is at the heart of the problem. In Europe the greatest demographic shock since the Black Death was suffered by France during the First World War. Life expectancy fell by about 16 years. By comparison, Botswana is facing an HIV/AIDSinflicted fall in life expectancy of 31 years. Beyond the immediate human costs, HIV/AIDS is destroying the social and economic infrastructure on which recovery depends. The disease is not yet curable. But millions of lives could already have been saved had the international community not waited until a grave threat developed into a fully fledged crisis.

But the problem in fact extends beyond AIDS, to general population imbalances.... Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for a rising share of child deaths: the region represents 20% of births worldwide and 44% of child deaths. The world has in fact not one population problem, but two. While some economically highly developed societies are increasingly short of children some other, third world, societies are effectively trapped by extraordinarily high birth rates. Niger, for example, with aTFR of 8.0, or Guinea-Bissau with 7.1, or Mali also with 7.1, or Somalia with 7.0, or Uganda with 6.9....

Russian mortality trends pose one of the gravest human development challenges of the early twenty-first century. Such an acute upsurge in mortality highlights the need for better research to identify the causes of excess male mortality and proactive public policies to identify and protect vulnerable populations during periods of rapid socio-economic transition. Particularly important is the development of institutions perceived as legitimate by the population and capable of overseeing a complex process of economic reform...