Each year, the United Nations issues a human development report, a report that takes a look at how people fare around the globe. The first report, issued in 1990, was built on the premise that people are the real wealth of a nation.
The 2013 report, “The Rise of the South,” focuses on the notable gains countries in the Southern Hemisphere have made in developing their human capital, expanding opportunities for workers, and helping lift people out of poverty.
Countries like China, Brazil, Indonesia and India have seen dramatic shifts over the past decade as their economies have grown rapidly. With the growth in their economies, a shift in politics has also occurred with new attention brought to anti-poverty programs, programs to promote gender equality, and attempts to mitigate the environmental impact of this new growth.
These encouraging signs in these countries have widespread implications for improving the human experience for countries that were largely shut out of the post-World War II resurgence of the North.
But while the south has risen, the former economic and human capital superpowers have seen a decline in human capital indicators. Austerity policies, stagnated economic growth, widespread unemployment particularly among youth, and the erosion of once robust social compacts threaten the once unshakeable prosperity of countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States.
The report suggests a fix for northern policymakers looking to put an end to the backslide their countries have experience.
“The principles that have driven post-Second World War institutions and guided policymakers need recalibration, if not a reset, to accommodate the growing diversity in voice and power and to sustain development progress over the long term,” the report states. “These principles require reconsideration, and global institutions need greater flexibility to reinforce directions that put people first and nudge institutions to aim forcefully at a fairer, more just world.”
Simply put, what worked to drive people forward in the past 50 years will not work as well anymore.
Today, more than anything, people need opportunity to achieve their dreams. That’s what has happened in the south, where economic opportunity to provide goods and products for the north opened up a world of opportunity.
It takes more than opportunity, though. It also takes resources to help people achieve their dreams.
One problem plaguing northern countries highlights the need for both opportunity and resources — youth unemployment. High youth unemployment figures strain countries already struggling with slow economic growth. It puts strain on social programs and often causes civil and political unrest.
These unemployed youth, however, want to work. They want opportunities to where they can set off on a path to become financially independent and self-sufficient. Rather than curtail programs that could help this at risk group, countries in the north should invest in programs to bolster opportunities.
America’s Future Workforce, for example, provides the kind of support in both opportunities and resources that benefit young workers who might otherwise get shut out.
Programs like AFW also address another troubling finding of the 2013 UN report. Income inequality, the gap between the rich and the poor, is a problem facing all countries both in the north and the south. The report says the ruling elites in both the north and south cannot afford to ignore the threats to growth that a lack of fairness and accountability can create.
By offering more people opportunities that had long been available only to the elites in these nations, policymakers can work toward shrinking the gap between the rich and poor and upholding the ideal of the UN report. People are the wealth of a nation.