[Paleopsych] Foreign Policy: Dangerously Unique
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Sat Oct 1 19:20:41 UTC 2005
Dangerously Unique http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3212
MISSING LINKS: COLUMNS ON THE SURPRISES OF GLOBALIZATION
By Moisés Naím
Why our definition of "normalcy" can be costly for everyone else.
You are not normal. If you are reading these pages, you probably
belong to the minority of the world's population that has a steady
job, adequate access to social security, and enjoys substantial
political freedoms. Moreover, you live on more than $2 a day, and,
unlike 860 million others, you can read. The percentage of humanity
that combines all of these attributes is minuscule.
According to the World Bank, about half of humanity lives on less than
$2 a day, while the International Labour Organization reckons that a
third of the available labor force is unemployed or underemployed, and
half of the world's population has no access to any kind of social
security. Freedom House, an organization that studies countries'
political systems, categorizes 103 of the world's 192 nations as
either "not free" or "partially free," meaning that the civil
liberties and basic political rights of their citizens are limited or
severely curtailed. More than 3.6 billion people, or 56 percent of the
world, live in such countries.
Statistically, a "normal" human being in today's world is poor, lives
in oppressive physical, social, and political conditions, and is ruled
by unresponsive and corrupt government. But normalcy is not only
defined by statistics. Normal implies something that is "usual,
typical, or expected." Therefore, normal is not only what is
statistically most frequent but also what others assume it to be. In
this sense, the expectations of a tiny minority trump the realities of
the vast majority. There is an enormous gap between what average
citizens in advanced Western democracies--and the richer elites
everywhere--assume is or should be normal, and the daily realities
faced by the overwhelming majority of people. Information about the
dire conditions common in poor countries is plentiful and widely
discussed. Curiously, however, expectations about what it means to be
normal in today's world continue to reflect the abnormal reality of a
few rich countries rather than the global norm.
We assume that it is normal to eat at least three meals a day, to walk
the streets without fear, and to have access to water, electricity,
phones, and public transportation. Sadly, it is not. Today, 852
million people, including many children and the elderly, do not get
three meals a day, and when they do, their meals do not provide them
with the daily caloric intake required by a normal person. Roughly 1.6
billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.4 billion rely on
traditional fuels such as wood and dung for cooking and heating.
Thirty percent of the world's population has never made a phone call.
Street crime and urban violence are normal in most of the world. The
average homicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is about 25
per 100,000 inhabitants and, in sub-Saharan Africa, it is roughly 18
murders per 100,000. (In the European Union, there are just 3
homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.) An estimated 246 million
children, about 1 in 6, work, and 73 million of them are less than 10
years old. Whereas childbirth is typically an occasion for celebration
in high-income countries, it is a source of death, disease, and
disability elsewhere. According to the World Health Organization, more
than half a million women die every year due to pregnancy-related
complications in the developing world, where the risk of maternal
mortality is 1 in 61. In rich countries, the risk of maternal
mortality is 1 in 2,800.
This distorted perception of what is normal can take on subtler forms.
Consider, for example, our common assumptions about the quality of the
news we get. We tend to assume that the news is free from government
interference. Yet, in most of the world, that is not the case. A World
Bank survey of media ownership found that in 97 countries, 72 percent
of the top five radio stations and 60 percent of the top five TV
companies were state-owned. The study also found strong statistical
evidence that countries with greater state ownership of the media have
fewer political rights, less developed markets, and strikingly
inferior education and health.
Rich-world assumptions about what constitutes the global norm are
costly illusions. Billions of dollars have been wasted by assuming
that governments in poorer countries are more or less like those in
rich ones, only a little less efficient. Despite constant reminders
that most governments in the world are unable to perform relatively
simple tasks, such as delivering the mail or collecting the garbage,
most recipes for how these countries should solve their problems
reflect the sophisticated capabilities taken for granted in rich
countries, not the realities that exist everywhere else.
We want people to have a better life, and it is natural that our
definition of normal serves as a compass for helping others. The gap
between what we assume is normal and the reality that billions of
people face is driven less by a parochial propensity to impose our
experience on others than a sincere expression of our values. Nor
should values be abandoned--they are our true north and point us in
the direction where progress lies. But our strongly felt ideals must
not become the basis for policy. At a time when values have become so
common in political discourse, it is important to remain alert to when
our advice is built on faulty assumptions about what is normal. When
that happens, values lead to bad decisions, not moral clarity.
Moisés Naím is editor in chief of FOREIGN POLICY.
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