Video: Hans Rosling's Sketch of World Poverty Changes

Politically, Hans Rosling sees the world through the prism of western aid and numerous prejudices. But his presentation here of changes in world poverty since 1980s is, nonetheless, fascinating. Don't miss this discussoin of the world's big North-South divide and how it has changed over thirty years. You may well find some of this suprising. (This is part of the remarkable TEDtalks series of lectures. More to come.)

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  • Guest - joseph ball

    This man's statistics may be OK but the point he's trying to make is rubbish. It's known by everyone that life expectancy has tended to increase across the Third World (with AIDS creating a massive blip in the other direction in some countries). However, Rosling's statement that there's no gap between rich and poor anymore is nonsense-his own statistics show that the top 20% have 74% of the income, with high income concentrated in OECD countries.

    As, the First World has shifted industry to the Third World there has been some increase in living standards in many Third World countries. This is because income is always higher in the town than the country and among industrial workers than rural workers.

    However, the Third World worker is still exploited and oppressed. The idea that their incomes would just keep going up until they reached First World levels is belied by the recent crisis. Look at all the former 'Asian Tigers' who are seeing their economies go down like lead ballons. Meanwhile First World governments (backed by trade unions) desperately try to protect their economies by attempting to dump the effects of the crisis on the Third World. China may be able to launch a stimulus package but they don't dare do what America does and say they'll restrict imports. And Hilary Clinton has just made a quick trip to China to tell them to keep lending the US government money, in return for low-yield bonds denominated in a depreciating currency. The old divisions remain, believe me.

  • An earlier version of the talk is also available -- and it describes the statistical changes of Sweden over three hundred years.

    Gapcast #1 - Health, Money & Sex in Sweden

    Gapcast #2 - Urbanization

    Gapcast #3 - Human Development Trends

    GapCast #4 - Globalization

    As for joseph Ball's points: Joseph says that the statistics "may be ok" but "the point he’s trying to make is rubbish." Really? He is only trying to make one point? And it is simply "rubbish"? And this overshadows the statistics? which at best "may be ok"?

    When we posted this video we pointed out that Rosling's arguments are colored by his (social democratic) politics and that the statistics he reveals are interesting apart from thos politics.

    But still, I think that Joseph misrepresents Rosling's argument a bit. He is hardly arguing that disparities are gone (if you look at his work, including the links I give above, you will see that he documents and highlights the existing disparities).

    And he isn't arguing that oppression is gone (he actually doesn't mention oppression at all, let alone argue about it).

    The main point I saw in that first presentation is that he is arguing that an assumption of <em>simple polarization</em> (between north and south, or between imperialist and formerly colonial countries, or between first world, second world, thirdworld) is a view rooted in the realities of 1960s or 1970s (when Mao was making those distinctions based on the then-realities),

    And that the objective trends in the decades since then have introduced a lot of changes.

    There are still people insisting that there are only "two types of countries" and that there are therefore two basic revolutionary strategies corresponding loosely to those two "types" (Just one example: the RCP insists on this, without justifying the insistence).... and Rosling's statistics have the positive effect of quite simply blowing the argument out of the water.

    Formal colonialism ended fifty years ago (in the main). Neo colonialism has itself gone through major changes (look at the example of South Korea). Countries that were semi-feudal during World War 2 are, in some cases, exporting massive amounts of capital today. And let's not overlook, that many leftist analysists assumed that capitalism (because of general crisis or whatever ) would produce stagnation and socalled "underdevelopment" in much of the world -- when, in fact, that is not what has happened and when, in fact, capitalism has produced quite dynamic change, of many kinds, in many diverse countries (with the a few specific exceptions -- including many sub-saharan African countries.)

    No one is focusing on (or promoting) Rosling's NGO view of the world (focused on development aid and imperialism).

    The issue is more simple: What is the point of having a world image that is rooted in decades-old realities?

  • Guest - Joseph Ball

    Rosling does certainly say in the clip that the gap between rich and poor in the world is not there anymore and this is most certainly rubbish.

    All countries export capital. A capitalist that earns a bit of money from import-export in Senegal may decide to invest it in a tourist bar in Gambia. This sort of thing happened in the 60's too. The mere fact of export of capital, on its own, is not of vast importance.

    It was never just a case of rich Western Europe and Japan on the one hand and starving Third World on the other. Look at the history of a Third World country like Argentina in the early 20th century.

    Yes, the imperialists built up four 'Asian Tigers'-Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong as bulwarks against Chinese communism.

    Now, as I say, these economies are sinking like a stone, only a few years after recovery from the Asian financial crisis of 1997. The fact was that the development of these countries depended on low wage competition with the West. Now this wage advantage is eroded the crisis is likely to accelerate a restructuring of the world economy away from these locations (and Malaysia and Thailand) towards more lower cost destinations in China, Vietnam, Cambodia etc. The imperialists are even talking about 'Third Worldising' Ireland again by pushing its workers wages down to compete with those in Poland!

    Yes, development has happened in China, due to Mao's industrialisation drive and the hyper-investment that Deng's state capitalism facilitated. The Asian tigers were state capitalist from the start and their economies were designed almost explicitly to compete with the success of socialist industrialisation in the Soviet Union and China. Now, the imperialists have decided they can discard this latter project giving the Chinese ruling class a sharp lesson in the need to keep the wages of their proletariat suppressed.

    As, for the rest of the world, try travelling through India if you want to see an example of a 'shining model of development' where the people are foced to live in a a catastrophic, feudal mess by their venal, backward ruling class. This ruling class has held back the struggle of the people for progress and development for decades which is why the CPI (M) speak so much about fighting feudalism and do not take some Trotskyist approach to the class struggle in their country.

    Just look at the raw income figures-the bottom 80% of the world have only 26% of the income, with the rest of the income concentrated in the OECD countries.

    The recent, unsustainable global boom may have blurred the perceptions of some about this but believe me the old division of Third World vs. First World remains, with the Third World proletariat providing the leadership of the world revolution.

  • I'm not going to go back and forth about what Hans Rosling says: it is not the main point here, and I think anyone hearing the video can see for themselves that it does not claim that "the gap between rich and poor in the world is not there anymore."

    No one denies that wealth is concentrated in the OECD countries -- it is clear (among other places within the statistics that Rosling presents).

    Joseph writes:

    <blockquote>"The recent, unsustainable global boom may have blurred the perceptions of some about this but believe me the old division of Third World vs. First World remains, with the Third World proletariat providing the leadership of the world revolution."</blockquote>

    The point is that there is not just a "blurring of perceptions" -- but an actual set of changes in the relative wealth and development of countries.

    When you say "believe me the old divisions remain" -- that is no argument. We can't (of course) just "believe" you. These are matters of fact, matters of science. And the actual divisions (the real divisions) that exist in the world need to be detailed, documented and understood.

    No one denies there are rich and poor. that isn't the issue. No one denies that there is the exploitation of poorer countries by richer countries -- or that the structures of the world economic system are established to favor some over others. The issue raised here is precisely that the "old divisions" have undergone change, and the new divisions are not identical to forty years ago (even as they grew out of those old divisions).

    And no one is arguing that Hans Rosling's little demos constitute the kind of analysis we need -- they are just that, little demos. And we need a serious analysis of the current structure and trends in the world. But his videos do (graphically) puncture old thinking carried over dogmatically from the 1950s and 60s, and help kick open the door (as he clearly intends) for thinking that engages with the world as it actually now exists.

    A quote from Marx I ran across today:

    <blockquote>"I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers-that-be. I am therefore not in favor of setting up any dogmatic flag. On the contrary, we must try to help the dogmatics to clarify to themselves the meaning of their own positions." (1843)</blockquote>

  • Guest - Joseph Ball

    As I have tried to point out, there is no thinking carried over dogmatically from the 1950s and 1960s. In these decades the predominant trend was that Third World countries did not compete industrially with western nations. This was due to the great effectiveness of British imperialism in suppressing industrial development in its colonies. Of course one colony in particular managed to escape this fate-the USA. The War of Independence was in many ways a response to the British attempts to suppress US economic development.

    After the war the US emerged as the champion of a new economic order, which would replace the old bone-headed UK imperialism, based as it was on economic vandalism on a world scale. The new credo of the imperialist world order was free trade and the UK was forced to ditch 'imperial preference' in pretty short order.

    Because of this development, yes the order that existed in the 1950s and 1960s was superceded. Some Third World nations did industrialise and did eventually start to compete with the US and West European industry. The old monopoly position of the original industrial powers (the UK, US, Germany etc.) was eroded.

    But what Mike fails to take account of is the fact that this development has just sustained the old order, in essence. The wages in the newly industrial nations were so low that western capitalists and the western working class benefited from trade with these countries through unequal exchange (the West buying artificially cheap products from the Third World in exchange for the export of some artificially expensive goods, the production of which was still monopolised in the First World). As wages have risen in some of the newly industrialising countries, so their economic position has been undermined, as I said previously.

    Am I really so dogmatic? Actually, the ideology of Maoism that I uphold is relatively new. It reached its full fruition in the 1960s, only about 40 years ago. Some 'new' variants of 'communism' just hark back to the ideology with which capitalism and the bourgeois political order began hundreds of years ago. I think I am probably relatively 'new' and 'open' to modern ideas, wheras some are relatively old-fashioned, with their minds closed to revolutionary ideas.

  • Joseph writes:

    <blockquote>"But what Mike fails to take account of is the fact that this development has just sustained the old order, in essence."</blockquote>

    it depends which "old order" you are talking about. If you mean monopoly capitalism as a social system -- the changes in the third world countries don't (fundamentally) undermine that.

    If you mean the old circuits of production and investment -- well, these have undergone change. In fact, your quick analysis of these things (with a rather one-sided notion of "benefit") actually misses some key dynamics and defining changes.

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