Plan B Budget, Part 1


We all need guidelines from time to time. Today’s column is the first of three in which I will outline a Plan B budget. Today’s budget examines poverty and population stabilization. For more details you can see Chapter 7 in Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (free online).

Many countries that have experienced rapid population growth for several decades are showing signs of demographic fatigue. Countries struggling with the simultaneous challenge of educating growing numbers of children, creating jobs for swelling ranks of young job seekers, and dealing with the environmental effects of population growth are stretched to the limit. When a major new threat arises—such as the HIV epidemic—governments often cannot cope. Problems routinely managed in industrial societies are becoming full-scale humanitarian crises in developing ones. In the absence of a concerted effort by national governments and the international community to accelerate the shift to smaller families, events in many countries could spiral out of control, leading to more death and to spreading political instability and economic decline. There is an alternative to this bleak prospect, and that is to help countries that want to slow their population growth to do so quickly.

In an increasingly integrated world, eradicating poverty and stabilizing population are national security issues. Slowing population growth helps eradicate poverty and its distressing symptoms, and eradicating poverty helps slow population growth. With time running out, the urgency of moving simultaneously on both fronts is clear.

The U.N. Millennium Development Goals include cutting the number of people living in poverty in half by 2015, cutting the number who are hungry in half, achieving universal primary school education, providing access to safe drinking water for all, and reversing the spread of infectious diseases, especially HIV and malaria. Closely related to these are the goals of reducing maternal mortality by three fourths and under-five child mortality by two thirds.

While goals for cutting poverty in half by 2015 appear to be running slightly ahead of schedule, mainly due to successes in China and India, those for halving the number of hungry are not. The number of children with a primary school education appears to be increasing substantially, however, largely on the strength of progress in India. And mortality of children under five fell from 15 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2003 and is expected to continue falling.

The steps needed to eradicate poverty and accelerate the shift to smaller families are clear. They include filling several funding gaps, including those needed to reach universal primary education; to fight infectious diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria; to provide reproductive health care; and to contain the HIV epidemic. Collectively, the initiatives discussed are estimated to cost $68 billion a year in addition to what is already being spent. (See table.)

The heaviest investments in this effort center on education and health, which are central to both human capital development and population stabilization. Education includes both universal primary education and a global campaign to eradicate adult illiteracy. Health care includes the basic interventions involved in controlling infectious diseases, beginning with childhood vaccinations. Adopting the basic health care program outlined in the 2001 Report of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health to the World Health Organization would save an estimated 8 million lives per year by 2010. These are the keys to breaking out of the poverty trap.

For the first time in history we have the technologies and financial resources to eradicate poverty. Industrial-country investments in education, health, and school lunches are in a sense a humanitarian response to the plight of the world’s poorest countries. But more fundamentally, they are investments that will shape the world in which our children will live.

For more details on this budget see Chapter 7 in Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble available for free downloading.