The paradox of our time is the great power of the world's richest countries to do good, but their seeming compulsion to miss every opportunity to do so. The US stands as the supreme example of this: a country that devotes $450 billion per year to military spending allocates only $12 billion per year to development assistance for poor countries. It can bomb Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but seems ill-equipped to help these places develop. Europe is little better, paralyzed as it is by internal divisions and budget deficits. Next week's G-8 summit in Evian, France is a chance to make a fresh start.
For the one billion people represented at the G-8 Summit, life is extremely good in comparison with the rest of the planet, with average incomes at $25,000 per person or more and life expectancy around 80 years. For about three billion people in the world today, including China, much of India, and most of East Asia, economic development is proceeding reasonably well, even if it displays a lot of ups and downs (most recently, the shock of the SARS epidemic). Positive trends are also seen in Brazil and Mexico.
But for the world's remaining two billion people, life remains desperate. For roughly one billion people, bare survival is nothing short of precarious. Millions die each year because they lack access to medicines, food, safe drinking water, and basic sanitation. Their life expectancy is often less than 50 years, and is falling in many places.
The G-8 could end the suffering of the world's poorest billion people if it adopted realistic measures to solve their problems. They fail to do so not only because they are greedy, but also because they are scared. They think that global poverty is inevitable and too expensive to solve. But they can solve the problems of the world's poorest--with relatively little effort and with no noticeable negative impact on their own standard of living.