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Globalization and global population


Last updated 11/10/2006 at Noon

(Continued from last week’s issue of the Village News)

The human population of the planet is estimated to now have passed six billion people. But are large numbers themselves a problem? Europe for example has higher population densities than Asia. There are more than two sides to the debate on whether population numbers equate to over-population or not. The food scarcity part of the argument in the population debate is an interesting one — people are hungry not because the population is growing so fast that food becoming scarce, but because people cannot afford it. Food may be scarce, but it is international trade, economic policies and the control of land that have lead to immense poverty, therefore less access of food, not food scarcity due to over population.

Does population affect and put stress on the environment, society and resources? Existing consumption patterns as seen in Europe and North America can put strain on the environment and natural resources. But how much of the environmental degradation we see today to consumerism and geopolitical interests. Especially when considering that globally, the 20% percent of the world’s people in the highest income countries account for 86% of the private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3 % (source: United Nations Development Report). The state of the world, World watch institute suggests that the global economy could be seriously affected by environmental problems, such as the lack of access to enough resources to meet growing population demands. Environmental degradation can contribute to social and political instability, which can lead to security issues. This has not currently been addressed by the foreign policy of many nations. Already around the world we are seeing an increase in violence and human rights abuses as disputes about territories, food and water are spilling into wars and internal conflicts. By ensuring women’s rights can be upheld, and realizing that women play a crucial role in the development of society, many underlying issues which lead to conflict and problems can be tackled more effectively. Better care, education and rights for women mean that children should also benefit. This can eventually allow a society to enjoy more rights and the society can be enriched.

The impact of globalization on population is both direct and indirect. Globalization has influenced the speed of development, serving as an impetus for faster growth in some countries and retarding growth in others. Increasing factor, product, and capital-market integration allowed Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to increase in Europe and North America at a faster rate than it would have otherwise. In the long run, all groups gained from the market integration, but some groups gained more than others. In the short-to-medium run, some groups may have lost because of competition from other countries imports.

Globalization can also have a potent direct influence on population. Perhaps most obvious is the influence on migration of policies toward the international flow of refugees, workers and their families. The forces of globalization have also directly influenced fertility and mortality. In some instances globalization has been an important positive force, particularly with respect to the globalization of health care. The most notable example of a negative impact is probably the effect of globalization on the spread of disease.

The global demographic transition is nascent. Eastern Europe, African nations, South/Central America and Asian nations are still in early stages of the transition. The millions that migrated from Europe to United States are only a small part of this great story. In our present third wave of globalization, so far only 2% of the global population has moved across borders. As their transitions proceed, the potential for changes in trade patterns, capital flows, and immigration looms large. At the same time, the revolution in life expectancy is likely to continue in the developed world unless it is disrupted by widespread use of weapons of mass destruction or the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. Whether the mortality revolution continues in the developing world is likely to depend upon whether developing countries are able to put institutions in place that facilitate the transmission and acceptance of public health knowledge and new medical practices. The adoption of social institutions that facilitate information transmission and allow adaptation to changing circumstances is surely the critical element for any society, as efficient institutions will also generate strong economic growth. Globalization and demography are likely to generate a virtuous circle of benefits only when attention is paid to the underlying institutions through which they are filtered. Without well-functioning political and economic institutions, globalization can be dysfunctional for any society. Filtered through a system of incentives that dose not reflects social costs or benefits, globalization and demography can interact to produce large populations living in poverty. In sum, the critical task for any society is to get the institutions right. We as a global society have not considered the significance of the large demographic shifts. The challenges ahead require an open debate, a profound search for new ways and a leadership that is truly global and profoundly visionary.


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