Statistics in the News: Chapter 7 Presenting
Data: Summary Measures
Rich Nations Insensitive to World Poverty?
As the text notes, the humble proportion can sometimes
tell a dramatic story. The terrorist attacks of September
11, 2001 on the United States provide a case in point. Surely,
few would dispute that terrorism and the violent religious
fundamentalism that has spawned it, however complex their
causes, grow best in the soil of poverty. Thus, these events
have again raised an old issue: What role should rich nations
play in the economic development of poor nations?
Should the rich pay more attention to the plight of the
poor? Despite glowing optimism after the end of World War
II, the rich nations' record in raising the poor nations to
a minimal level of material well-being has been nothing but
disastrous. As recently as 1983, the World Bank predicted
that the developing nations' GDP would on average grow 3.3
percent a year over the following 15 years. In fact, it barely
grew at all.
The extent of world poverty remains shocking. Despite a
modest decline in the proportion of those who are poor, the
absolute numbers of the poor have risen sharply. About a third
of the world now lives on something like $2 a day. Yet the
citizens of the richest nations enjoy per capita incomes 30
times as large. (Over the long run, this discrepancy has widened
substantially. In 1820, for example, the per capita income
of the richest nations was only 3 times that of the poorest.)
It is a fact that rich nations are shamefully stingy about
aiding the poor. Typically, they devote less than 1 percent
of their incomes to foreign economic aid. Hardly anyone is
stingier than the United States. Look at the proportions
of GDP devoted to foreign economic development that are listed
in Table A. In 1999, a typical year, U.S. development aid,
measured as a percentage of national output, was the skimpiest
TABLE A GDP Devoted to Development Aid, 1999
||Aid in Billions of Dollars
|| Aid as Proportion of GDP
Is it time for the rich world to cough up some serious money
for the poor? Self-interest alone may well counsel an affirmative
answer. The cost of terrorism and of wars to fight it is likely
to exceed by far the cost of fighting world poverty effectively.
None of this is to say that a determined policy to help the
world's poor would be easy. As history has shown, all too
often aid is diverted by corrupt and despotic leaders to their
own purposes and doesn't reach those it designed to help.
But all that is not the main point of this story, which is
merely meant to illustrate how simple statistics can
dramatically highlight an important issue in our lives.
Source. Adapted from Jeff Madrick, "Economic Scene,"
The New York Times, November 1, 2001, p. C2. Table
based on World Bank data.
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