Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Oh yeah, the rest of the world . . .

It's too soon to tell, of course, what regime change in the United States will mean for the less developed countries. We've been pretty much obssessed with our own problems lately, and I would expect that foreign aid will be an even tougher sell than usual. Still, if we were wise enough to recognize that cutting taxes on the wealthy and deregulating financial markets is not the path to prosperity after all, and that war is not peace and slavery may not be freedom, perhaps we'll be wise enough to realize as well that we have to live on this planet and that what happens in those remote places matters to us after all.

During the campaign, Barack Obama advocated increasing funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief by $1 billion over five years, and doubling overall foreign assistance -- to $50 billion a year -- over time. He also called for cancelling the foreign debt of the world's poorest countries. Under the current circumstances, I would be surprised to see all of this happen, although the latter is certainly a possibility. You can't get blood out of a stone anyway. But Obama has already used his executive authority to get some of the ideologically driven nonsense out of the aid we already give -- specifically by ending the ban on funding organizations that offer abortion-related counseling and referrals. Presumably the ban on needle exchanges programs and the favoring of "abstinence only" sexuality education will also go overboard.

We'll be keeping a close eye on policies toward global relief and development. I've written before about the controversies over HIV and other disease-specific programs, vs. investing in broad health care and public health infrastructure. In the long run, what we do to develop renewable energy technology and reduce use of fossil fuels here will also have a big impact on the world's poor, as will global trade policy -- and that includes our agricultural policy which is terrible not only for small American farmers and American consumers, but for poor farmers around the world as well. I'm not counting on the Democratic Party to fix that last one, however, not while the midwest is a major political battleground and Archer-Daniels-Midland and Monsanto are big political players. But we're watching them anyway.

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