Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 11:45 GMT
Can the global economy help the poor?

The UK government outlines new plans on Monday to use the global economy to help close the gap between the world's richest and poorest countries.

The White Paper contains proposals for increasing Britain's overseas aid budget and measures the government hopes will ensure it is used to better effect.

Mark Curtis, Christian Aid's head of policy, said: "Poverty is the greatest challenge of our age and globalisation is failing to rise to that challenge."

Is the global economy helping to keep people in poverty? Or can it be used to help those most in need?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I'm sorry to have to break this news to all the idealists out there but countries, like people, are NOT created equal. This is why communism does not, and will never work. Capitalism is crude but effective because it is based on a simple universal law of nature: only the fittest survive.
Joe, Holland

Capitalism by its nature, must bring about its own destruction. The task of each corporation/ company is to increase its share of the market and profit margin. There is nothing in its charter to suggest that it should look after anyone but those at the top of its employ.
Eric Gillingham, Australia

The rich countries are not evil, they are simply profit-driven

Cathryn Baillie, US
Of course it can but of course it won't. The purpose of WTO, for instance, is to ensure the continuous source of cheap labour. Without poverty, there is no cheap labour. In every case where a multinational corporation has gone in and set up business, whether agricultural or industrial, the aim is to eliminate either the family farm or any local sources of employment. Our business is business and it's against our interests to improve conditions.
Cathryn Baillie, US

We can all see the inequalities capitalism brings within our own towns and cities as well as the divide between the rich and poor countries. What is required is the fundamental change in the way we think. Existing decision-makers in big corporations are paid to meet revenue targets - nothing else. People in the richer countries must reach the point where they are prepared to take action. This might involve a decrease in their material standard of living, but they will have a much better overall standard of living and more importantly - a more balanced view of and therefore better quality of life.

To make the jump from the concerned/excuse driven stage to the "take action" stage is not easy as we are brought up to want more for ourselves without thinking too much about the consequences outside of our own little world. People won't take action until they can think outside of their own little world. It's up to you. Start now.
Lach, Australia

It is important to remember that multinationals are not solely responsible for the state of Third World countries. Kenya, for example receives millions of dollars of aid a year, everything from food aid to money to improve the countries roads. But while there is no visible improvements to the country, the top politicians seem to keep getting richer. Corruption is a much larger factor in keeping people poor than multinationals.
Neerav, England

It is unacceptable that nowadays 75% of our world population lives in poverty. Although, most of the Third World countries produce all raw material for our Western world, they do not seem to get a fair price. Besides, the Third World has to pay off their loans and interests, who have reached a dramatically high level. Moreover, Third World countries are led by incapable leaders. Therefore, I would like to ask the Western leaders of today to condone the Third World's liabilities. So these people will get a fair chance into the new millennium.
Annemie Van Uytven, Leuven (Belgium)

The current system isn't designed to benefit the Third World but to control it

Loki English, England
I am saddened that Clare Short has taken such a simple view of the globalisation process. Foreign investment can be a great tool to break the poverty cycle but needs to be managed in such a way that the emerging economy doesn't become vitally dependent on corporate capital. If your whole economy is fuelled from the outside then you're forced into cutting public services, anti-competitive regulation, tax, trade unionism, workers rights and environmental protection laws while providing heavy public subsidies to keep '"competitive". That is unsustainable. While the White Paper is a step in the right direction, just ask yourself: who are the loudest in evangelising free-trade and why? The current system isn't designed to benefit the Third World but to control it.
Loki English, England

Capitalism is simple and it works. Leave social programs for the church, and other organisations. It is better for individuals to decide where there charitable contributions go, not governments. Free trade is the best thing that a government can do to help Third World countries. Free trade agreements like NAFTA will give people a reason to stay in their countries, take pride in them, and build them up. By no means is this an easy process. It takes hard work, but it is sustainable.
Phill VanSickle, USA

To blame the evil of trade for the mess these countries are in is a woefully lame argument

Mike Thomas, UK
I think that the globalisation argument is taken too far out of context and put into too much of a western perspective. What is being ignored is that many of the Third World countries are either being run by incompetent government incapable of using rich natural reserves to benefit their people. Sierra Leone has a huge valuable mineral wealth, Nigeria has oil reserves not to mention the cash crops, coffee, cocoa etc. found in other African countries. To blame the evil of trade for the mess these countries are in is a woefully lame argument and I feel is the misplaced conscience of the liberal and left-wing middle classes in the West.
Mike Thomas, UK

There are tens of thousands of homeless people in the United Kingdom and we have a government consumed by a need to use the global economy to help reduce Third World poverty. How about using some of the British economy to reduce British poverty. Or would that not be visible enough to the outside world?
David Pringle, UK

Globalisation shows the double face of the West

Fatih Yilmaz, Turkey
Globalisation shows the double face of the West. While saying that they have to contribute towards the development of poor countries, in reality they exploit their cheap labour force and markets.
Fatih Yilmaz, Turkey

Those who slate multinationals seem to think that letting the Third World go back to subsistence farming would be an ideal answer. Zimbabwe is a current example where the economic advantages of a cash crop economy are being thrown away for the sake of racial jealousy and political expediency. The multinationals who were buying Zimbabwe's tobacco crops were helping to support a large proportion of the population. Now the jobs have gone, a few are to scratch a living as peasant farmers and the rest will depend on Western aid.
Brian, UK

Globalisation can help the poorer nations of the world if there is a proper legal framework for multinational corporations to conform to. Otherwise, with the Wild West economic thinking that governs the world today (as embodied in the WTO), neither the developing world nor the developed world will be the better for it.
Anders Dybwad, Norway

Globalisation without any form of "human rights" linkage can perhaps condemn many Third World people to relentless exploitation on a Dickensian scale. Remember the "Christmas Carol"? When will we recognise that one aspect of human rights is the right to a living wage? Trade protection is not the answer, as has been eloquently demonstrated by Argentine beef, Russian steel etc. Nevertheless the internet is a destroyer of barriers and an opener of opportunity for the poor of the world, if supported properly and promoted within the context of economic human rights.
Philip Corsano, USA

Argentina wants to honour its debt

Fernando Reyes, Argentina
I am from Argentina. We produce the best beef in the world, but we cannot sell it. We face restrictions from the EU and USA for most of our products. At the same time, the IMF and the World Bank come to tell us that we have to open our economy to EU and USA products. We did that in the early 90's. Since then poverty and unemployment have increased to unprecedented levels. Argentina wants to honour its debt - all we need is to be able to trade fairly.
Fernando Reyes, Argentina

Can the global economy help the poor? Of course. Will the global economy help the poor? Of course not. Let's wake up to our basic instincts and either accept the status of its cruelty and then accept the global decline. Or wake up and redress the global balance.
Wild Spirit, England

The world economy has changed and is still changing at such a great pace. Politics MUST catch up, people must be informed, otherwise democracy, as we and thousands of people know it, will continue to be sacrificed at the altar of profit. Capitalism is slowly privatising democracy. Those who have the money are making more and yet more decisions about how governments rule, and ultimately how people live and behave. The WTO now wants to privatise all public services. Globalisation must be controlled. How about putting the emphasis on fair trade and democracy?
Peter Cameron, UK

The fat white kids who protest in Seattle are just like tourists at a "demo" theme park. They no more care about kids in the 3rd world, then they care about the welfare of the cat in Tom and Jerry cartoons. We should remove the trade barriers that prevent poor countries from getting richer. Vested interests whinge on about issues like child labour, but why do parents in poor countries send their kids to factories? Is it because they are evil, or don't love them ? No. It is because they're poor. The fat white kids got education (and tickets to Seattle) because their parents were rich.
DominiConnor, UK

Capitalism feeds racism, sexism and fascism!

Steve de Weijer, Belgium
The capitalist structure is a vertical one: the money from the bottom goes to the people and corporations on top of the ladder. They can only keep this structure by oppressing the poor. Capitalism feeds racism, sexism and fascism. Of course globalisation won't help!
Steve de Weijer, Belgium

I work hard for every penny I earn and am not going to give it away to some other country so they can waste it on arms! This money will not help the people it was meant for.
Adam, England

The World Bank and the IMF have been responsible for cultivating a suitable environment for the multinationals to raid the Third World. This takes the form of interest rate deregulation that puts economies like Kenya's at the mercy of multinational banks and agricultural concerns exploiting cheap labour.
Mutai, Kenya

It is interesting to see the "capitalists are the reason why poor countries stay poor" brigade's view, as it does not reflect reality. Many of the so-called poor countries are that way because their rulers are corrupt, self-serving individuals, whose only goal is to amass power and wealth - e.g. Mugabe. Removing these individuals will have a much more dramatic effect than blaming multinationals.
Freddie, UK

The global economy is not just corporations

Steve, UK
The global economy is not just corporations - it is you and I as well. When we buy a product we are handing power to the corporation that makes that product. Did you buy petrol today, or coffee or clothing? If you did then you have voted for the makers of those products. And if they had to exploit the Third World to make those products then you are also are exploiting the Third World. Consumers have the power to control the global economy and corporations but it will take organisation and agreement amongst themselves to do so.
Steve, UK

The world population is exploding by 70 million a year and mother nature can't be bought. Fundamentals first then a business plan.
John, USA

The reason some are rich and some are poor has less to do with an unequal distribution of capital than it does with an unequal distribution of capitalism. Make no mistake: "Economic Democracy" is nothing more than the failed ideals of socialism in a new package.
Vincent S, USA

There is one, and precisely only one, set of Third World peoples who are prosperous and happy. They are the ones who have emigrated to live in the evil capitalist and colonialist countries.
Jon Livesey, USA

Don't be so quick to slam corporations for doing our dirty work

Keith Francis, England
People slam the global economy by saying that corporations are there for the shareholders. In most cases the shareholders are insurance companies and pension funds, i.e. us. So don't be so quick to slam corporations for doing our dirty work, i.e. providing for the elderly now and us in few years.
Keith Francis, England

As long as the global economy continues to be based on capitalism and not democracy, the rich will continue to get richer and the poor will continue to get poorer.
James Henderson, Switzerland

Globalisation works wonderfully. Since it started the economic gap between the 20 richest and 20 poorest countries has increased at least two-fold. This of course is fantastic news for the big multinationals and western based countries that rely on cheap labour from the (apparently) developing world. As I said, globalisation is working, just not for the people who it affects most.
R. Court, Cambridge, UK

They are running the world without a mandate

Judith Crabtree, England
Surely the really frightening thing about globalisation is its complete lack of democratic control. So many of the key decisions about how we live are no longer made in Westminster, Brussels or Strasbourg, but in the boardrooms of multinational companies or in the meetings of international organisations like the World Trade Organisation.

Now the WTO is discussing the forced privatisation of public services world-wide. None of us can vote to change this institution and our elected representatives are excluded from their deliberations. They are running the world without a mandate, and our government seems quite happy to go along with this.
Judith Crabtree, England

Stimulating commerce is the only way to help poorer countries get richer. Unfortunately the man on the street in most of these countries is being exploited by both multinationals and corrupt Third World governments, who are only intent on making themselves richer. And the really sad thing is that when it comes down to it, most people in developed countries (myself included) don't give enough of a damn to do anything about it.
Mark, Austria

Fifty years is enough to gauge their usefulness

Obongita Okumu, Kenya
The IMF and the World Bank started half a century ago to assist poor countries. African States are still getting poorer. The global economy has not started assisting poor countries recently. Fifty years is enough to gauge their usefulness.
Obongita Okumu, Kenya

The governments are the cause of the poverty in most poor countries therefore helping any of them is only equivalent to boosting the poverty and filling the pockets of a few.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

The global economy can only help the poor if there is a 'level playing field' i.e no subsidies, no quotas, no preferential treatment for rich countries. Some hope of the WTO, dominated by global (especially US) corporations arriving at that situation.

It is ironic that while many countries want to enter and participate in the "new age" of the global economy, they don't want to follow the rules that make it work! That is, understanding and implementing "Economics 101" whereby one finds one's economic advantage which, certainly at the beginning, will be cheap labour. They then need to invest the proceeds of the people's endeavours in a decent education system, basic communication infrastructure, and building a future full of hope for the next generation. Investing in a decent justice system helps the confidence of the people, too ... corruption seems to be the bain of these countries. Just handing out (western) money for a new Third World band-aid does not help cure the underlying problem.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Only by being strategic and rational will we solve our problems

Brendan Fernandes, UK
Globalisation is ethically neutral; it is up to the people to help the people. Deferring responsibility to any system alone will not magically produce humanity. That being said, there are ways to adjust the system to reduce the bias against the proletariat, whilst still keeping free trade and competition alive. But all too often, the debate is for or against globalisation as a whole. Only by being strategic and rational will we solve our problems, not by vandalising McDonalds.
Brendan Fernandes, UK

The "I'm alright" attitude may be selfish but the problem is that we're not "alright" while people are still dying from influenza and other causes which would be curable if there were enough beds available in our hospitals.
Melody Forrest, England

Before this can be answered, we need to step back and ask "What global economy"? The rich get richer while the poor get poorer and we (un-Great Britain) sit in the middle handing it out and getting poorer ourselves! Is this what an economist does - imbalance figures? It certainly does not help this country!
John C, Warwick, England

If we don't buy the products, then they won't make them

Stuart, Reading , UK
Whilst organisations like the IMF, World Bank and WTO exist nothing will be done about Third World poverty since their primary interests are in supporting the multinationals responsible for exploiting third world countries resources. Without a responsible international organisation in place to prevent this from happening developing countries rich in western consumerist fodder will continue to suffer. The onus is ultimately on us to take the first step by becoming ethical consumers. If we don't buy the products, then they won't make them.
Stuart, Reading , UK

The only people that benefit from globalisation are the stockholders. Smaller people have no voice, no rights and each one of us on this page should realise that if we stand in the way of big business we are the ones that will lose. Big business has no concern for the environment and they dictate terms to governments or they lay off thousands if they can't get their way. What hope is there for the poorer nations on earth what can Tony do if big business doesn't allow it - nothing! What we need is a sharp correction in the global economy to remove these credit filled commerce balloons and get back to a correct way of trading.
Mark, Germany (UK citizen)

The problem resides more in the arcane details of international agreements

Michael Grazbrook, UK
To reject globalization is to reject or restrict the knowledge and goods other countries have to offer. North Korea is the best modern example of this. The problem resides more in the arcane details of international agreements, and the way they affect the negotiating position of less developed nations.
Michael Grazbrook, UK

I can only say this. It is an illusion to say that the global economy is going to help the poor. The global economy isn't in the power of the people who it's supposedly helping, it's in the power of a few corporate leaders. That alone should make one question what's really at stake.

As a Latin American (Peruvian) I have seen and felt the economic and social gap between developed and 'developing' countries. The companies that talk about the global economy use it to reduce their costs: labour and products (e.g. food products). Suppliers in developing countries can't reduce their costs anymore and powerful negotiators from the big global companies want it even lower, making developing countries compete against each other for the best price. Yes, we Latin American people, welcome companies who choose our countries to develop their businesses, that means jobs and a better life for us. But we do also ask for commitment and fair agreements.
Alessandra, Peru

Giving with one hand and taking away with the other

Andy Stanley, UK
We have a Home Office Minister, considering relaxing immigration laws to plunder skilled workers from developing countries to fill our labour market needs. This is just the same old imperialist colony pillaging as in the days of the Empire, only taking the human resources as well as the natural resources. Far from channelling global capitalism to remove the gap between rich and poor, all we have is a spot of government-inspired amelioration designed to deflect criticism from capitalism. Giving with one hand and taking away with the other is either deeply cynical or at best, not very joined up thinking.
Andy Stanley, UK

Neil from England is typical of many inhabitants of this country. The "I'm alright" attitude is completely selfish, especially when considered alongside the many selfless people who regularly give time and energy, for no personal gain, to help people in developing countries. The government's efforts should be applauded, but I hope the effort is sustained after the general election and other governments participate in this forward thinking.
Anna, UK

The next time someone buys designer trainers, think about the person in China who made them for a pittance

Ciara, UK
Whilst many comment on the action/inaction of government in reducing third world debt, surely it's time action was taken against the global companies/multinationals who make their money through the exploitation of workers in the 3rd world. If they were to receive fair pay and decent working hours, this would go a long way to improving their standard of living. Governments who claim they are using the global economy to help in the battle against poverty ignore the role these companies play. The next time someone buys designer trainers, think about the person in China who made them for a pittance.
Ciara, UK

We should get our own House in order, before we go off on a Crusade to save the third world. A lot of these countries have got in this way from having corrupt governments. Probably put in to power by us "the West" in the first place
Craig S, England

Why should globalisation help reduce poverty, there is still much poverty in the so-called first world. Sadly the big corporations who are becoming so prevalent don't care about reducing this anymore than do helping people starving in Africa. They exist purely for profit and the benefit of their shareholders. The only difference is they get global profits now.
James Newman, UK

It would make sense if the UK tried to close its own internal wealth distribution gap first before trying to show the world how to fix that of others.
K. Jackson,USA

If globalisation was structured to benefit workers it would not even be a consideration.
Steve B, USA

Dangling an unreachable carrot in front of them

Selva Appasawmy, Mauritius
Globalisation is a newer version of slavery. The masters this time are big multinational companies and the slaves are the poor people, especially of the south. The WTO is there to ensure the masters are given all the facilities, without hindrance, so as to exploit to the last drop from their slaves.

Development along the lines of what WTO advances, with their vision of globalisation, will keep most of the poor people of the developing country in a state of perpetual slavery allowing them just to survive and yet dangling an unreachable carrot in front of them.
Selva Appasawmy, Mauritius

I agree we should help feed the starving and save the innocent victims of war but why should we do more? Are we really trying to help the poor become rich? It seems to me that the West has an interest in creating markets for its products and promoting westernisation. I don't think we should be saying these countries are poor simply because they wash their clothes in rivers.
Nikolai Kulow, UK

Multinationals responsible only to their shareholders

Vicky Dunn, UK
Development that improves the living conditions of the poor without further environmental devastation is essential, yet will never be delivered by multinationals responsible only to their shareholders or the blatantly selfish EU and US (which keep trade barriers to developing countries goods high whilst dumping their own produce abroad). Truly sustainable development will only be delivered when the world is run democratically, not by the shadow world government of transnational capital.
Vicky Dunn, UK

If rich countries paid fair prices for the resources of poor countries - such as coffee and other tropical plants and foodstuffs, labour, raw materials, etc. - there would be far more wealth in the impoverished regions. The problem is that all these prices are unfairly set by an effective monopolistic cartel of mostly U.S. and some E.U. based multinational giants.
Pete Coan, France

With regard to Oliver Kamm's statement that drawing in investment from the trans-nationals is essential to improve the lot of the poor, the evidence goes against this: a recent study shows that Foreign Direct Investment in developing countries tends to increase inequality.
Sam Perlo-Freeman, England

A global economy would be a step in the right direction. The important thing is that the administration of such an economy, must be overseen by an international body, with ex-pats placed in those countries it intends to help. This would stop the corruption and the siphoning off of funds by corrupt officials.
Derek,ex-pat, Brazil

Lets change this crazy system

Mark, Scotland
The globalisation of the world economy is the major CAUSE of world poverty! This is why thousands of aware people take to the streets every time the global elites try and speed up the globalisation process, i.e. Seattle, Prague, Nice. Globalisation is for the corporations' benefit, and any "benefits" that occur are by accident. Lets change this crazy system, before its too late!
Mark, Scotland

Any money-based economy, by its very nature, will allow the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor. It's only by good government, global or otherwise, that fairer balances can be made.
Richard G, UK

The way in which it is directed is the crucial factor

George, UK
While there are undoubted positives and negatives resulting from a more global economy, the way in which it is directed is the crucial factor. With the dominance of countries such as the G8, these countries will benefit much more than poorer ones. However, there may be a time where a currently dominant country loses out. We cannot lump all the arguments into the same basket, under the heading "globalisation is good/ bad"
George, UK

This is a good idea and example to other rich countries.
Suwat, Thailand

This idea is all well and good, but is it just more hot air from governments that can't even decide what currency to use or even sort out their own economies enough to be able to give any proposal a serious chance of succeeding? Are they just fishing for votes like brownie points for a good deed?
Simon Mills, UK

We know how poor countries can better themselves

Oliver Kamm, UK
The depressing truth is that the self-proclaimed development charities are campaigning to keep the Third World in poverty. We know how poor countries can better themselves: by trade, by attracting foreign capital to fund the current account deficits that naturally arise when a country's profitable investment opportunities exceed her domestic savings and by integration into the global capitalist economy. That's how Singapore and Hong Kong grew rich. The spokesmen for Christian Aid, Oxfam, ActionAid and the other development charities are highly-paid political activists with precious little grasp either of how the poor of the Third World live or of elementary economics. It's time they entered the real world.
Oliver Kamm, UK

The Government was elected to help the people of "this" country, not give away my taxes on some politically correct whim. This "aid" is nothing more than downright robbery from my own pocket.
Neil, England

The question is how the global economy is organised and oriented. Only if this is done in a correct way there will be hope that it will not counteract a better world...
Onno Timmerman, Belgium

Globalisation is portrayed as extending the standard of living in the Western world to the rest of the world's population. However, with the West currently using 80% of the world's resources this is simply impossible. The true goals of economic globalisation are nothing more than the means for the rich nations to further exploit the poor.
Neil Gall, Scotland

What the developing world needs is more capitalism, not less

David Moran, Scotland/Australia
What the developing world needs is more capitalism, not less. The one thing the developing world has in vast amounts is labour - if the developed world can bring employment where there was previously none, then I find it immoral to suggest that, by denying such people the right to work, it in any way improves their lot.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

Of course! If as a consequence of our economic system, the rich become richer and the poor poorer, redressing the balance is essential. Cancelling debt and offering favourable terms of trade would be more effective than aid packages, allowing funds to go direct to the people affected and therefore prevent officialdom from creaming off funds for their own benefit.
However, since we cannot rely on multinationals to act selflessly, and since there is no global government (Dr. Hedley Bull described the world of nation-states as "the anarchical society"), the poorer nations are dependent on the richer trading nations from realising that exploitation is ultimately in no-one's interests.
Andy Millward, UK

The global economy sounds all well and good, but isn't just a glorified shop. If you haven't got any money to buy goods and the goods you want to sell are not as good/cheap as the other sellers, you're still going to end up poor.
William Cater, England

Far from being the answer to poverty, a global economy will probably CAUSE worldwide poverty

Peter H, UK
Far from being the answer to poverty, a global economy will probably CAUSE worldwide poverty. Putting it simply, if you took all the wealth in the world and distributed it equally among the world's people, everybody would be poor - and probably unemployed as well.
Peter H, UK

Imagine the Bank of England or the London Stock Exchange without the British Government there to keep an eye on them! No one in Britain would stand for that, yet no one in Britain demands the same for the Earth in general. The global economy can best be watched by a democratic global government.
T.J. Cassidy, USA

Any aid coming from the G8 countries only serves to crush any native industries that already exists in those countries

Richard P, UK
The global economy can and should help the poorer nations. But the conditions of open trade that are currently added as a condition of any aid coming from the G8 countries only serves to crush any native industries that already exists in those countries.
Instead of giving a market to developing countries in the rich G8 countries globalisation serves to create new sweatshop labour forces for multinational corporations who take all the profits back to their corporate HQs in the US or Europe. In order to protect the native industry of developing countries from being wiped out we need to restrict the access to these markets until a country's home-grown industry is established and competitive. Only then will the people of the developing world see a benefit from their labour.
Richard P, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

11 Dec 00 | UK
Government ends tied aid
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Talking Point stories