Gruesome figures

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
19 September, 2017
Editorial: 134
Fecha de publicación original: 22 septiembre, 1998

The heart of a greedy person never rests

20% of the human beings on the planet consume 86% of its available resources, according to the recent Report on Human Development which is published periodically by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This gross imbalance between the “haves” and the “have-nots” makes for a statistical juggling which creates a picture far more pornograhic than all the Lewinskys of the world prostrated before their respective Clintons put together: the assets of the 84 richest people in the world represent more than China´s Gross National Product with its 1,200 million inhabitants. In fact, the fortunes of just two of them —Bill Gates and Philip Anschutz of Kansas– would allow the 19% of the USA population now living below the poverty line (or the whole of sub-Saharan Africa) to be wealthy for the rest of their lives. All the money destined for the Internet and education by the White House now and in the future, will never reach the 21% of Americans who are functionally illiterate. To them, living in the richest country in the world is nothing but a sick twist of fate. Their real country is the South, a territory delimited by barriers of poverty, unemployment and subsistence living unable to cover basic necessities. This “country” is inhabited by 1,000 million people. It’s a real world that represents an inescapable challenge for humanity as we stand on the threshold of the Information Era.

The UNDP’s index of human development (IHD), calculated on the basis of three things –longevity, a combination of literacy rates and student enrolment and the real Gross National Product (GNP) which takes into account the buying power of individual currencies– paints a picture which is far removed from the statistics used by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Over the last 20 years, consumption in the world has increased six-fold but the distribution pattern of resources has not changed during those years, in fact, it has been concentrated even more on that fifth of the population living in the wealthy countries. These people enjoy 58% of all the energy produced on the planet, 84% of all its paper, 87% of all its vehicles and 74% of all its telephone lines: information, services and knowledge run in parallel with these figures. On the other hand, the poorest fifth produces, heats itself and cooks with just 4% of the world’s energy and never exceeds 1.5% of available resources of all the others goods.

The UNDP’s report, as opposed to those of the IMF and the World Bank, gives no cause for optimism: all the indicators for human development point to a widening in the gap between rich and poor and the worsening of conditions in a growing proportion of the world population over the last 20 or 30 years. Mr Fukuyama’s end of history really means the end of the history for that sector of humanity unable to access the basic necessities that guarantee their survival. The globalisation of the economy at the hands of liberal policies implemented by the rich has made the numbers of poor in their respective countries rise, multiplied it in developing countries and is pushing the environment and its ecosystems to the brink of collapse.

If the Internet could become a powerful tool for the dissemination of information and knowledge, for the transfer of experiences and reparation of social imbalances which government and economic forces the world over are clearly indifferent to, the UNDP’s report offers a plan of action which could orientate a series of pressing debates over a “broad spectrum”, from our attitude to consumerism, to the policies of telecommunications operators in different parts of the world, as well as the role of cooperation and the transferring of research results to developing countries, to mention just a few of the most urgent questions facing us at present. Although it does not form part of the the indicators in the report yet, the Internet will undoubtedly become an important factor for measuring human development over the years to come, and this does not necessarily depend on the evolution of electronic commerce and economic exploitation of the Net. In fact, the latter would mean just more of the same almost certainly bringing with it worse results every year.

Translation; Bridget King,