NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 22, 2005

Statistically, a "normal" human being is poor, lives in oppressive physical, social and political conditions and is ruled by an unresponsive, corrupt government; but our definition of normalcy can be costly, says Foreign Policy's Moises Naim.

About half of humanity lives on less than $2 a day, has no access to social security and a third of the labor force is unemployed. But normality can't be solely defined by statistics because the word implies something that is usual, typical or expected; therefore, what is normal is part statistics, part assumption, says Naim.

For example, we assume that having three meals a day, walking the streets without fear and access to basic utilities is normal; sadly it's not, says Naim:

  • About 852 million people don't get three meals a day (when they do, their meals don't provide them with the required daily caloric intake), roughly 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity and 30 percent have never made a phone call.
  • Street crime and urban violence are normal in most of the world; the average homicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is about 25 per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • An estimated 246 million children - about 1 in 6 - work, and 73 million are less than 10 years old.
  • Childbirth is a source of death, disease and disability; more than half a million women die every year due to pregnancy-related complications in the developing world.

These assumptions are costly illusions, says Naim, since billions of dollars have been wasted by assuming that governments in poorer countries are more or less like those in rich ones, only a little less efficient.

Furthermore, our ideals must not become a part of policy; it's important to remain alert to when our advice is based on false assumptions about normalcy, concludes Naim.

Source: Moises Naim, "Dangerously Unique," Foreign Policy, September/October 2005.

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