Global capitalism has long lacked for a ringing slogan like "workers of the world unite." It's never too late to find one, and a good candidate -- with apologies to the international charity of the same name -- might be "save the children."
The United Nations Children's Fund just announced that deaths of young children worldwide hit an all-time low, falling beneath 10 million annually. Better practices to protect against disease and to enhance nutrition -- more vaccinations and mosquito nets, more breast-feeding and vitamin A drops -- played a role, but the most important factor in this global good-news story is economic growth.
It is no coincidence that as UNICEF was reporting the drop in child mortality, the World Bank was reporting global poverty rates had fallen as part of an extraordinary worldwide economic boom. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson calls it "far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime." The global economy is growing at a 5 percent clip, higher than the 3 percent of the period from 1960 to 1980 and the 4.7 percent from 1960 to 1980. As U.S. News & World Report points out, "Gross global product is three times as big as it was in 1970"; so the global economy is not only growing faster, but there's more to grow.
In a worldwide instance of trickle-down economics, the growth is diminishing the ranks of the poor. According to the World Bank, developing countries have averaged 3.9 percent growth since 2000, contributing "to rapidly falling poverty rates in all developing regions over the past few years." In 1990, 1.25 billion people lived on less than $1 a day. In 2004, less than a billion did, even though world population increased 20 percent in the interim.
When a developing country gets richer, it means that people living there are less likely to be malnourished and -- as infrastructure improves -- more likely to have access to clean water and to sanitation. This is a boon to health.
A recent article in the journal Lancet concluded that "undernutrition is the underlying cause of a substantial proportion of all child deaths." Malnutrition weakens a child's immune system and makes him more susceptible to diarrhea, malaria, pneumonia and other diseases. Lack of potable water and sanitation -- roughly 1 billion people lack clean water, and 2 billion lack sanitation -- also increases the risk of illness, obviously. Millions die every year from diseases associated with contaminated water and poor sanitation.