Digitally Empowered Development

THE GROWING GAP

Advances in information and communications technology did more than almost anything else to drive the last decade's economic boom and the integration of markets around the planet. New data networks, automated inventory control, and just-in-time manufacturing systems have made U.S. companies the most efficient in the world. The Internet has increased the speed of development -- electronic commerce, although still in an early phase, has already transformed industry after industry by enabling greater efficiency. E-mail and instant messaging are becoming ubiquitous in industrial countries, and mobile phones are expected to reach one billion people worldwide by 2002. The money spent on the digital infrastructure that supports these burgeoning new services -- from Internet servers to fiber-optic networks -- has itself become a major engine of economic growth.

The speed of these developments, the corporate economic power they embody, and the wealth they have created are truly astonishing. But alongside these positive trends are other, more sobering signs. These warning signs take various forms and are especially visible in developing regions and among the four billion people -- more than half of humanity -- who live on less than $1,500 a year. The population continues to grow rapidly in the poorest areas of the world, and a surge in urban migration, bringing with it unprecedented demands for housing, water, sewerage, and jobs, now threatens to overwhelm cities. Biological resources -- such as forests, fisheries, and the fertile soil on which billions of people still directly depend for food and income -- are being depleted. Meanwhile, poverty persists in many regions. And despite abundant world food supplies, malnutrition is rising in Africa and southern Asia because growing numbers of people can no longer produce enough food for themselves and are too poor to buy what they need.

These problems are beginning to wreak havoc in other areas as well. Potential conflicts over scarce resources, large-scale migration, and urban crime and instability are starting to threaten national security. New forms of terrorism, aids and other devastating diseases, and the changing climate are all having similarly destabilizing effects. Ever-larger disparities between haves and have-nots undermine the kind of social consensus essential for stability and political progress.

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