It’s a couple years old, but the video below got some attention on Reddit today, and it’s worth reposting. It’s a wonderful lecture. Dr. Rosling doesn’t come right out and say so explicitly, but the theme that emerges over and over again throughout the lecture is the importance of neoliberal economic policies, and, specifically, of free trade.
We’re going to hear a lot about “fair trade” and making future and possibly even past trade agreements contingent on labor and environmental standards—standards determined by Western labor and environmental advocacy groups. Cheap labor and a less burdensome regulatory environment is often all poorer countries have to offer. This to me is scariest thing about an Obama presidency. Reversing the global move toward freer trade would be devastating.
Free trade and access to world markets have unquestionably bettered the human condition. The total number of people living in absolute poverty has actually been in decline for several years now, despite a continuously growing global population. Proportionately, the global number living in absolutely poverty has halved. These are trends unprecedented in human history. And globalization is why. You see it over and over in the Gapfinder animations—countries that have shut themselves off to the world (the Islamic Middle East and much of sub-Saharan Africa) have remained mired in poverty. The countries that have opened themselves up (China, Southeast Asia, parts of Eastern Europe) have made leaps in their collective standard of living.
The U.S., Europe, and Japan could and should do a lot more to accelerate that process by pulling down trade barriers and ending wasteful farm subsidies. And true free trade would obviously preferable to negotiated pacts that include protections and concessions to favored industries. But there’s no question that freer trade, even if only a next- or third-best option, has been a net benefit. It would be tragically backward-thinking and destructive for Obama to take us back to shallow, protectionist-minded policies (and destructive not just to the developing world, but to us).
Incidentally, Google has since bought the rights to Dr. Rosling’s amazing Gapfinder software. You can play around with it here.
One other thing. According to Wikipedia, Rosling is an accomplished sword swallower.