A recent Article by Bryan Walsh explores the human development enabled by a post-world war two order. To avoid a repeat of the turbulence of the Thirty Year period that began in 1915, this post-war order was established. Institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations (UN), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were formed. Despite an occasional spike of violence, the article reports that the absolute number of people killed in war and conflict has been declining since 1946.
Our human development has never seen a more impactful period. Average global life expectancy has increased from around 50 years to 71 years since 1946. The number of people living in poverty dropped dramatically during that same period, and for a brief time, inequality dropped as well. Yet prior to the pandemic, there were already signs that this post-war order was under stress. Anti-globalization sentiment (especially in the West) was running high. This fueled nationalism and xenophobic attitudes, while inequality rose higher and populism rose with it. Trade wars, an immigration backlash, and a clash of superpowers all threatened to reverse global progress.
Now, the pandemic looks to amplify the existing trends, while adding additional concerns. Most notably is a return of poverty levels not seen in some time. Mr. Walsh states that the hardest-hit victims are likely to be women in the developing world who just emerged from poverty thanks to a mix of smarter aid and economic globalization. The amplifying of anti-globalization sentiment is likely to accelerate efforts to localize production at some level.
In addition, forecasts of permanent job loss fuel concerns that rising inequality is exacerbated, feeding a vicious cycle that fuels more populism. These possible paths are just that — we are not pre-destined to realize them. But like any future thinking exercise, they give us pause. They should inform us, helping us construct a future that enables our path to continued human progress. This brief video displays a slide show that looks at the historical story — and reflects on the authors question: will global progress be reversed post-pandemic?