THE UN'S annual Human Development Report, published yesterday, starts its chapter on the fight against poverty with a quotation from Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century reformer and feminist. "It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world," she wrote. Poverty is a limit on freedom, and the elimination of poverty should be not merely an act of charity but a basic entitlement.
The report continues: "The torture of a single individual raises unmitigated public outrage. Yet the deaths of almost 30,000 children a day from mainly preventable causes go almost unnoticed." Its numerous tables catalogue the huge chasms between rich and poor countries on all the measures that combine to give the annual human development ranking.
Thus Canada, once again the highest-ranking country, had GDP per capita (in 1998) of $23,582, life expectancy at birth of 79.1 years, and more than 99 per cent adult literacy. Sierra Leone, at the bottom, had an average GDP of $458, life expectancy of a meagre 37.9 years and a literacy rate of 31 per cent.
The comparison between the ultra-rich and ultra-poor grows ever more marked. The wealth of the world's 200 richest people reached $1 trillion last year; the combined incomes of the 582 million people in the 43 least- developed countries was $146bn during the year. There are 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day.
Of course, there is nothing new about this sort of global inequality, but the growing unease about globalisation among campaigners - like those who demonstrated in Seattle last December and in Washington in April - has moved it up the political agenda. The economic evidence is overwhelmingly that the liberalisation of trade and investment helps poor countries at least as much as rich ones; for example, Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) countries still account for most of the world's exports, but the share of the rest has expanded with export growth (see chart). The real losers are the countries that are marginalised from globalisation, and these are lagging further and further behind.
Yesterday's report calls for a framework for trade and investment that delivers more for the very poorest and places greater emphasis on fairness and social goals. This is going with the grain of recent developments, like the guidelines for multinational companies agreed by OECD ministers earlier this week. This agreement committed their governments to ensuring companies move towards minimum labour and environmental standards in their operations in developing countries. Yesterday's report calls on the Fortune 500 companies to make a specific pledge to uphold human rights and meet the core …