By Lars Lofgren
As the developer of the Gapminder software as well as having delivered five previous Ted Talks, Hans Rosling has become an authoritative voice on global health and development statistics. Furthermore, his presentations are always riveting. In his most recent Ted Talk, Rosling discusses the global population growth since 1960 and how the popular distinction between the “West and the Rest” is no longer relevant.
In 1960, the world was defined by a distinct gap between the West and the developing world, with about one billion people in the West and two billion in the developing world. Saving to purchase cars characterized the West while developing countries were still struggling to secure food and shoes.
In 2010, there is no longer a gap between the industrialized world and the developing word. Emerging economies fill the continum between the two extremes. However, the distance between the industrialized nations and developing economies has widened significantly since 1960. The developing world still contains about two billion people, with emerging economies containing about four billion, and the West also maintaining a population of about one billion.
By 2050, it is fairly evident that China will meet industrialized standards and become part of the industrialized world, raising the number of people that live in industrialized countries to two billion. Emerging economies will continue to progress towards Western living standards but only if sufficient investment is made into green technology to offset the costs of global warming. If this investment is made, their growth and progress of three billion people can be expected to be just short of current Western living standards.
The bottom two billion of the developing world will grow to four; this process is already underway and cannot be curtailed. If progress isn’t made to raise developing countries into emerging economies so that they no longer struggle to obtain food and shoes, population growth could continue to grow beyond four billion in this demographic. Since population growth in the rest of the world is stagnating, targeting the developing world and raising their standard of living is the only way to prevent population growth from exceeding nine billion.
To do this, child survival rates must be increased in developing countries. Rosling believes that this can be accomplished. If it is, the West will no longer lead the world but provide a foundation that emerging and developing countries can build upon.
The implicit assumption in Rosling’s argument is that the world order is a function of economic standards and with increasing standards throughout the world, the international system will inevitably become increasingly multi-polar. While economic conditions certainly impact the international system, they may not be the only variable of influence. Military power, global influence through culture, and international norms may impede the rise of many countries in obtaining global influence on par with the current global hegemon, the United States. As a realist would argue, states seek to maintain their relative power and will likely subvert other states to prevent a shift in the system. Often, shifts in the international system are marked by violence.
There is no consensus on the future of the international system and whether or not it will continue to be dominated by the United States, a different hegemon, a bipolar arrangement, or become increasing multi-polar as Rosling argues. Keep in mind that the debate is incredibly complex and this response gives only the briefest of overviews.
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