This morning (Wednesday, November 17) I am in Washington moderating the launch of the United Nations Human Development Report 2010, one of the world’s significant documents. Most of what we hear on the news is a noisy blur of specifics even the participants can’t remember a week later. This annual report details The Big Picture: the economic, social, educational, political and health care situations of the world’s nations. The report is roughly 10,000 times more important than the Wall Street data, political polls and sports stats we obsess over.
Perhaps you assume that as a product of the United Nations, the report is political hot air. Quite the contrary: the report is candid, factual and rational, because it’s written at the United Nations Development Programme, which functions independent of the General Assembly and Security Council. United Nations population forecasts and agricultural analysis have high standing among experts. So, too, does the Human Development Report.
And perhaps you assume that any United Nations document is alarmist cant. Again quite the contrary: the 2010 Human Development Report is mainly optimistic about the developing world. It paints, in fact, a far more sanguine picture of most of the human family than is found in the mainstream media. When the United Nations says something depressing, coverage is always assured. Today, the United Nations says something hopeful – will the world pay notice?
“Overall, poor countries are catching up with rich countries” on nearly all central measures, the report finds.
Since 1970, income in the developing world has risen 184 percent (all money figures in this column are adjusted to 2010), versus a 126 percent income rise in the OECD nations in the same period. Literacy in the developing world has risen 61 percent since 1970. School enrollment and life expectancy have risen sharply in most developing nations. An overall Human Development Index, which weighs the leading indicators of life, is up 57 percent in the developing world since 1970, and 23 percent since 1990. (See page 28 of the report.)