The Situation Is Desperate But Not Critical

North-South, A Program for Survival Development Issues Under the Chairmanship of Willy Brandt

The Report of the Independent Commission on International
MIT Press, 304 pp., $4.95 (paper)

Rich and Poor Nations in the World Economy

by Albert Fishlow and Carlos S. Diaz-Alejandro and Roger D. Hansen and Richard R. Fagen
McGraw-Hill, 264 pp., $6.95 (paper)

“There is a real danger that in the year 2000, a large part of the world’s population will be living in poverty.” This is a quotation from the foreword to the so-called Brandt Report. A more realistic assessment of the present state of the world economy, and of social and political forces that might bring about a change, should lead to the conclusion that not only in the year 2000, but for many years into the twenty-first century, hundreds of millions of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America will continue to live in conditions of utter destitution that ceased to exist a hundred and fifty years ago in advanced industrialized countries.

What the report dramatically identified in its subtitle as a program for survival is essentially a fervent appeal to the political establishment of the Free World, imploring it to organize a vast transfer of goods and services to the less developed countries with the specific aim of narrowing the so-called income gap between the poor and the rich regions.

The credentials of the members of Brandt’s commission are most impressive. They are ex-prime ministers, ex-presidents of parliament, governors or ex-governors of national central banks, ex-ambassadors, and so on. In other words they are, in fact, members of the very establishment to which their appeal is addressed. The question naturally arises—what chance is there for the implementation of an elaborate plan whose authors offer it as private members of an independent commission when they were admittedly unable to implement it while acting in their respective official capacities?

Save for repeated and insistent references to moral values and warnings of dire consequences that will follow if its recommendations are not acted upon promptly, the report goes over familiar ground. Hardly anything that has been already said on the subject is overlooked, but nothing new of any importance is added. This, of course, is not surprising considering the volume of official and unofficial technical and popular writing devoted to these problems in recent years.

“After two years of consultation together and with many of the world’s most eminent people from various fields of international development,” the members of the Brandt Commission state they “are convinced that there are gains for all in a new order of international economic relationships and hope for humanity in achieving them.” Some of the seventeen chapters lead to specific recommendations such as, “Intermediate steps toward an international strategy on energy should be taken” or “the strengthening of indigenous technological capacity often requires a more scientific bias in education.”

The commission seeks “to eliminate mass hunger and malnutrition,” and wants “increased stability of international exchange rates, particularly among key currencies…through domestic discipline and coordination of appropriate national policies.” The Emerging Program for 1980-1985 demands “a large-scale transfer of resources to developing countries” and “increased food production, especially in the Third World, with the necessary international assistance,” and so on.

If only very little has happened up to now by way of practical large-scale action, it is…

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