Signs of the Times

[posted on corp-focus, July 28, 2006]

By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Using a statistical lens, two just-released books shed light on the ravages of corporate globalization.

Vital Signs 2006-2007 from the Washington, D.C.-based WorldWatch Institute contends that “the health of the global economy and the stability of nations will be shaped by our ability to address the huge imbalances in natural resource systems.”

The Least Developed Countries Report 2006, issued by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), argues that while there have been relatively higher rates of economic growth in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs, a UN-designated group of the world’s poorest 50 countries), it is “not translating into poverty reduction and improved human well-being.”

Here are 20 factoids from the reports, the first 10 from Vital Signs, the second 10 from The Least Developed Countries Report:

1. Global oil consumption in 2004 was 3.7 billion tons, about eight times more than in 1950. Coal consumption was two-and-a-half times more than 1950, and natural gas more than 15 times greater.

2. 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded on Earth. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 379.6 parts per million for 2005.

3. Thanks largely to Hurricane Katrina, weather-related disasters caused more than $200 billion in damage, nearly double the previous record. Three of the 10 strongest hurricanes ever recorded occurred in 2005.

4. More money was spent on advertising in 2005 than ever before — $570 billion, about half of which was spent in the United States. The global figure is 11 times more than was spent in 1950, measured in constant dollars.

5. More than 37 million people have died from AIDS over the last two decades.

6. The world’s governments spent more than a trillion dollars on the military in 2004, the highest figure since the end of the Cold War.

7. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs have been effectively destroyed.

8. Twelve percent of all bird species are threatened.

9. A billion people worldwide live in slums.

10. More than 300 million people worldwide are obese. U.S. obesity levels have doubled since 1990, to about 40 percent. Chinese levels have doubled during the same period, now standing at 7 percent.

11. Per capita, for every 100 researchers and scientists doing R&D in rich countries, there are only two in LDCs.

12. In 2004, LDCs had a combined trade deficit of $6.5 billion. Exclude the oil exporters, and the combined deficit was $18.6 billion — more than 50 percent of the size of non-oil-exporting LDCs’ exports.

13. LDCs imported $7.6 billion in food in 2003, while exporting only $2.2 billion worth of food.

14. The average years of schooling in LDCs is three years.

15. About one-in-five high-skill workers in LDCs (defined as some college or technical school education) was working in a rich country in 2000.

16. Thanks to International Monetary Fund and World Bank structural adjustment programs, governments in LDCs are only half the proportional size of rich country governments, with LDCs devoting only 3.5 percent of their national economy (GDP) to state administrative services.

17. Between 1991 and 2004, only 20 U.S. patents were granted to citizens from LDCs, compared with 14,824 from other developing countries, and 1.8 million to citizens of rich countries.

18. Labor productivity in LDCs is one-ninety-fourth the level of rich countries.

19. There are 3 percent as many phone lines per person in LDCs as in rich countries.

20. LDC energy consumption is 1.6 percent the level of rich countries.

Not all the news is so bad. Malnourishment is declining quickly in about a third of LDCs. Globally, infant mortality is at a record low — although gains are coming very slowly in the poorest countries. (Only four LDCs are on target to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015.) Bicycle production is rising rapidly, with 101 million bikes manufactured in 2003 (the latest year for which data is available), nearing record levels. Global production of photovoltaic cells — which generate electricity from sunlight — increased 45 percent in 2005, with current levels six times the amount produced in 2000.

Overall, however, there’s no way to look at the data in these two books and conclude anything but that the current way of doing things is not working.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, . Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman