Democracy Why the poor are getting poorer

Why the poor are getting poorer


1997, London: Transworld Publishers.



a college degree is not necessary to understand the relationship between
population and economics: the more people that a given number of goods
and resources have to be divided among, the fewer of those goods each will get and the less each will benefit from those resources.

          The simplicity of this equation is matched only by the frequency with which it is overlooked by governments. The importance of the formula really kicks in, though, when one measures the pace at which the population and the economy grow. So If you have an economy growing at a respectable rate of, say, 3 percent, and its fruits are to be apportioned among a population that is growing at, say, 1 per cent, then everyone will likely be getting a fair slice. Not only that, it means that everyone will likely be getting an ever-bigger slice.

          This is the fulcrum of prosperity in the elite group of rich nations. For the rest of the world, the opposite is true. Populations are growing faster
than the economies that they live in.
(my emphasis) For the great majority of these countries, it means that not only have things reached the point now where everyone is getting less than a fair slice – they’re getting an ever-smaller slice.

          This all seems perfectly plain. Nevertheless, there has been a debate in the last two decades wherein an opposing camp argued that more people create more economic activity, hence more wealth.  What this camp failed to take into account was the changing nature of the world economy, and that within many countries many millions of people would enter their economies unequipped to contribute (my emphasis) anything significant, and unable to derive much benefit at all. There would be more takers than makers.

          Commensurately, the rate of unemployment in the world has grown dramatically. Population Concern, an international population-monitoring agency, projects that, at current rates, in twenty years from now there will (be) five times more unemployed people than there are today.

          Countries caught in the population vs development dilemma have only two options for salvation: (1) slow the population growth down, or 

   (2) speed the economic growth up

until one passes the other. So far, there is no sign of this happening, nor of the likelihood that it may happen in the near future.

          The fact that the world, at 5.8 billion, already has too many people hardly needs emphasis. What carries mind-addling implications for the future, though, is the rate at which it is growing. It took humankind many thousands of years to reach 2.5 billion – which it did in 1950. Then, it took only until 1987, a mere thirty-seven years, for the same growth to happen again. According to present UN projections, the next 2.5 billion will take little more than twenty years.

          Yet again, the overwhelming weight of the problem, and the suffering that will come with it, lies in the developing world. The Central African Republic will take 35 years to double its population; by contrast, Japan will take 277 years and Sweden 990 years. 
Some relief is provided by the fact that the overall rate of population growth is slowing. The statistical picture given here, however, takes that into account. Mention is often made, too, of the Aids epidemic. Here, even the most extreme predictions of the spread of the disease mean a slowing of population growth in most-affected areas, not a halt to it.

          One more observation about population needs to be made, relevant to understanding the global context within which South Africa’s future is going to happen, and which South Africa’s future will reflect. The growing populations of the world are on the move. And it’s the cities they are moving to.

          The world is on the cusp of an important change in principle – from a planet on which the greater part of the population is rural, to one on which the majority of its people live in great, teeming cities. In a Newsweek compilation on the eve of 1996’s UN Cities Summit in Istanbul, it was reported that the world’s twelve mega-cities (10 million inhabitants or more) will grow to twenty-five before the century ends. Ten of the thirteen new comers will be in the Third World and, incidentally, Johannesburg will be one of them.

          Peasants stream to the cities to seek there the livelihood they cannot sustain in their villages and fields. To a degree, they do find improved conditions and opportunities, and the rate at which they multiply slows down. But degree is a small one, and is dwarfed by the new problems that arise.

          In Preparing for the Twenty-first Century Paul Kennedy looks into the near future of these urban centres:


Consider for example, the burdens that will be placed
         on such
cities’ already inadequate (or non-existent) 
transportation, food distribution,
         and communications systems
if their populations double
         or treble in size. In many of these
countries a
         disproportionate amount of the nation’s limited
         is owned by the governing elites, who will find it difficult
to buy off the discontents of the fast-growing urban





OH, AFRICA (45-46)

Indian and China awakening, Africa is the last continental space on earth that
shows no signs of entering an industrial revolution. In fact, as a collection of agrarian
societies it is not doing too wonderfully, either. The colonial period was undoubtedly sinful
and wrought lasting damage; but when it ended, it left Africa not only
self-sufficient in food, but a net exporter. 
Today, according to the Washington-based Food Policy Research Institute,
a quarter of the continent’s people are hungry and malnourished. Many of those are actually starving.

          Africa has stolidly failed to
modernize. For more than thirty years
manufacturing has remained static at about 10 per cent of economic
activity. The great boom of the 1950s in
world demand for commodities hooked Africa on a dead-end economic
dependency. The UN says a majority of
African countries depend on one or two commodities for more than 90 per cent of
their export revenue, and more than 75 per cent of the continent’s working
people are in the commodity sector.

          In this age where the well-intended
political correctness tends to reorder reality, it has become fashionable to
argue that Africa is the next – last,
, but next – continent where growth will blossom. These arguments, however, are of the “if” and
“should” variety. “If” African countries
do such-and such, then ... African governments “should” ... then ...

          Alas, the odds are stacked against these
good intentions and exhortations. With
12 per cent of the world’s population, Africa’s economic activity remains stuck
at about 1 per cent of the world’s GDP, and it receives only 2 per cent of
foreign direct investment.

          While the global economy and
developing countries are plagued by the development gap whereby the poor are
improving their lot marginally, but are getting poorer relative to the
rate at which the rich are getting richer, Africa is the only place that is in
reverse in absolute terms. In the last
fifteen years, output per head has fallen steadily.

          Sadly, Africa excels only in the rate at which it produces people. According to most projections, Africa will
add the equivalent of another Algeria to the continent every year for the next
thirty years. Even the most conservative
projections have the current population of 650 million doubling in the next
twenty years. As Paul Kennedy points
out, that’s without a corresponding increase in resources – in fact, a decline
in resources. Worse, by that time the
majority of the population would have migrated to the continent’s cities,
hoping to make a living without
marketable skills

          Many of the continent’s woes are blamed
on the colonial era. To be sure, colonialism
imposed a First World component on Africa, denied the indigenous people access
to it, stuck a bleedline into the natural resources, then precipitously pulled
out and dumped the whole shooting match on the luckless locals, leaving them to
sort themselves out as best they could. 
Yet Africans have failed to fill the post-colonial vacuum with anything of indigenous value.

          Democracy has not been kind to Africa. A brief flowering of multiparty systems in
the 1980s quickly careened out of control. 
Countries like Zaire and Zambia now have literally dozens of political
parties, most with an imperfect interpretation of the democratic way. There is, as a result, an emerging consensus
among Africans and others that a simplistic imposition of Western politics on
African societies is not as automatically beneficial as was imagined. International agencies are quietly backing
away from their insistence on Western-style multi-party systems as a
prerequisite for financial assistance.

          Thus there is a gathering tendency to
political systems that are more African in flavour. These are unitary systems that internalize
their democracy – single-party states, either by law or by practice, that
create extended lines of consultation within the party ... and cut out external
opposition. You can differ with us, as
long as you can demonstrate that you are with us.

          Whether this development constitutes
the first steps to a new stability and order that will lay a foundation for
growth remains to be seen.

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