The Vast Majority: A Journey to the World's Poor
The Evolution of the International Economic Order
1980s Project of the Council on Foreign Relations: Rich and Poor Nations in the World Economy
Reducing Global Inequalities
Three years ago, as Western statesmen were girding themselves to do battle at the Seventh Special Session of the United Nations under the banner of that intrepid knight in armor, Henry Kissinger, a sense of expectancy, even of excitement, filled the air. At last, it seemed, the poor, destitute, backward countries were beginning to make headway with the demand for a more equitable reordering of the world economy which they had been pressing since 1964. Some feared the prospect; others welcomed it. But everyone was alert and keyed up, awaiting the outcome.
Today, the mood is one of disillusion, boredom, almost uninterest. Even the West, although it has fonded off the “challenge” from the Third World, is not noticeably happier on that score, For the developing countries, it is generally agreed, the results have been “disappointing.”1 The most that anyone can be found to say is that they have forced their way on to the political stage, and that henceforward, and “for the indefinite future,” “the policies and economies of relations between rich and poor countries” will “remain central issues on the international agenda.”2
But even that—and it is little enough—is a dublous and questionable assertion, notwithstanding the fact that it is backed by the authority of the Council on Foreign Relations. No doubt, it depends on what you-mean by “central”; but the evidence of the past three years is scarcely encouraging. Even “the most optimistic militant in Tanzanla.” Michael Harrington observes in his book The Vast Majority: A Journey to the World’s Poor, would not agree that “a perceptible shift is taking place in the global balance of power.”3 More probably, if you were foolish enough to suggest anything of the sort, he would reply with roars of laughter.
What we have seen, in reality, during the past three years, is a progressive deterioration in the position and bargaining power of the developing countries. In 1975 their demand for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), and the threat it was alleged to pose for the West, assured them a central place on the international stage, and a good deal of the limelight as well. In 1976 and 1977 they were still able to command attention—real but peripheral—but now only because of the fear that their mounting debts-might imperil the whole international banking system.4 By 1978, when the dreaded defaults had failed to materialize, even this residual interest faded and the poor countries were edged, for all practical purposes, off the stage and back into the wings.5
The position was summed up a couple of months ago by Ralf Dehrendorf, the prestigious director of the London School of Economics. “I did not say.” he is reported to have declared, “that the developing countries may be neglected, but that they are being neglected, and, much as I deplore it, I have no doubt they will go on being neglected.”6 If that is the case—and I think it is the case—we are back, not perhaps…
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