Needed: Global Leadership for the Poorest of the Poor

CAMBRIDGE: Times are tough for the world's poorest countries. Always marginalized in the world economic system, these countries are facing even more neglect than usual. After a breakdown in diplomatic approaches, the rich world is busy dropping bombs on Serbia, at a cost of billions of dollars per month, and will no doubt devote billions more to cleaning up and fixing the damage from the bombs once a diplomatic settlement is made finally. Meanwhile, the poor countries are told that there is little left for them. Debt relief for the poorest of the poor is likely to continue at a grossly insufficient pace, even with new proposals that will be launched at the G-8 summit. And many of the key international institutions that could actually help the poor countries are seeing their budgets relentlessly cut.

A recent spectacle in Geneva was particularly egregious. The World Health Organization, the leading institution charged with protecting global public health, has made very important reforms in the past year under the new leadership of Dr. Gro Bruntland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister. On the basis of those reforms, and a new WHO agenda on global health, Dr. Bruntland made the extremely modest request that the core WHO budget from the donor countries should be raised sufficiently to absorb rising costs due to inflation and exchange rate changes. Yet even this modest request was rejected by donor governments. The WHO will continue to be squeezed for funds, while the urgency of its mission rises by the day.

This decision, promoted mainly by the United States, reflects the sad dereliction of U.S. leadership evident in so many parts of the world. The Clinton Administration has failed to pay U.S. back dues to the U.N., partly because of Republican opposition in the Senate, but partly because the Clinton administration simply hasn't been willing to champion worthy U.N. activities as a priority for the U.S. On the one side the U.S. presses for reforms at the U.N. agencies, but when they happen, as at the WHO, the reforms are met with U.S. calls for still more budget stringency.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

    The Brexit Surrender

    European Union leaders meeting in Brussels have given the go-ahead to talks with Britain on post-Brexit trade relations. But, as European Council President Donald Tusk has said, the most difficult challenge – forging a workable deal that secures broad political support on both sides – still lies ahead.

  2. The Great US Tax Debate

    ROBERT J. BARRO vs. JASON FURMAN & LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS on the impact of the GOP tax  overhaul.

    • Congressional Republicans are finalizing a tax-reform package that will reshape the business environment by lowering the corporate-tax rate and overhauling deductions. 

    • But will the plan's far-reaching changes provide the boost to investment and growth that its backers promise?

    ROBERT J. BARRO | How US Corporate Tax Reform Will Boost Growth

    JASON FURMAN & LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS | Robert Barro's Tax Reform Advocacy: A Response

  3. Murdoch's Last Stand?

    Rupert Murdoch’s sale of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets to Disney for $66 billion may mark the end of the media mogul’s career, which will long be remembered for its corrosive effect on democratic discourse on both sides of the Atlantic. 

    From enabling the rise of Donald Trump to hacking the telephone of a murdered British schoolgirl, Murdoch’s media empire has staked its success on stoking populist rage.

  4. Bank of England Leon Neal/Getty Images

    The Dangerous Delusion of Price Stability

    Since the hyperinflation of the 1970s, which central banks were right to combat by whatever means necessary, maintaining positive but low inflation has become a monetary-policy obsession. But, because the world economy has changed dramatically since then, central bankers have started to miss the monetary-policy forest for the trees.

  5. Harvard’s Jeffrey Frankel Measures the GOP’s Tax Plan

    Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a former member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, outlines the five criteria he uses to judge the efficacy of tax reform efforts. And in his view, the US Republicans’ most recent offering fails miserably.

  6. A box containing viles of human embryonic Stem Cell cultures Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

    The Holy Grail of Genetic Engineering

    CRISPR-Cas – a gene-editing technique that is far more precise and efficient than any that has come before it – is poised to change the world. But ensuring that those changes are positive – helping to fight tumors and mosquito-borne illnesses, for example – will require scientists to apply the utmost caution.

  7. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now