New Light on rich-poor gap

Sometimes it may not seem like it, but the world's "problem-solving resources" are mounting to match the challenge of providing sufficient natural and industrial resources for all.

One key to solutions lies in getting away from the whole narrow concept of "rich and poor" in looking at the problem of international disparities. A fresh outlook is suggested by former US Ambassador Marshall Green, whose national and international offices have placed him on the frontiers of thought about the globe's enormous population growth. In a paper recently published by the National Defense University, he suggests that the "gap between expectations than "the gap between rich and poor, or between wealth and poverty." And he suggests a new, les materialistic measure of human well-being that can be improved to reduce that politically explosive expectations gap.

This measure even goes beyond the PQLI (physical quality of life indicator) designed earlier by the Overseas Development Council to represent a more genuine measure of well- being than simply per capita GNP (gross national product). Mr. Green finds from his acquaintance with developing countries that the most valid universal indicators include:

* Kinship (family, involvement in community, being needed and of service).

* Health (physical and mental well- being).

* Mobility (freedom of movement and opportunity for advancement)

* Self-realization (progress towards one's aspirations whatever they may be).

Well-being defined in this way can be enhanced without an increase in consumption of natural and man-made resources strictly equivalent to the expected doubling or tripling of world population. Mr. Green notes that right now poverty and discontent do not seem as evident in some countries at the bottom of the per capita GNP and PQKI as they do in some countries higher on the scale. What may make a comparatively well-off person feel poor may be defining poverty "not as the possession of little, but as the nonpossession of much." The fight against poverty -- the achievement of better-defined well-being -- can be more effective when sights are lifted beyond such envy-laden definitions.

And Ambassador Green stresses what is increasingly acknowledged, that those seeking to aid developing nations cannot do much unless the latter make the social, economic, and institutional changes to use the aid efficiently. He cites the importance of participation on the local level, which "can help offset authoritarianism at the national level." There must be an overcoming of the resistance of elitist groups that benefit from organizational weaknesses and the piling up of rural debt.

Mr. Green's paper is only one of the sources of ideas coming to the fore just as now attention is drawn to a forthcoming summit meeting on development issues by discusions between Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau and Mexico's President Lopez Portillo, whose governments are among 11 cosponsors of the conference. There is also a report to the US President on ways to meet the problems of development as well as other matters warned about in the earlier "Global 2000" report. It advocates not only more aid and policy commitment but such specifics as the use of private-sector volunteers to help promote energy conservation.

And there is the US International Development Cooperation Agency's report on the earlier world development of study known as the brandt report. IDCA says that new multilateral trade agreements already will mean an average cut of 25 percent in US tariffs on the industrial imports from developing countries whose progress depends on increased market access. It tells of helping to solve energy problems through the possibility of establishing an energy affiliate for the World Bank, which is also considering a broad range of ways to boost the lending capacity of the bank and thus the access of developing nations to more financial resources.

To be sure, the idea of the summit conference, scheduled for Mexico next summer, is not to hammer out specific agreements but to enlist the leadership of rich and poor countries in giving fresh impetus to the perennially stymied international North-South negotiations on development matters. Even with specifics deferred, this impetus requires a sense of possibility, a conviction of progress based on the problem-solving resources hinted at here -- not to mention the many that have been discussed in the less publicized side of the previous development conferences labeled as ineffectual.

Mr. Trudeau has been promoting the summit on visits to several other countries, and Mr. Lopez Portillo will do so shortly. Ronald Reagan was filled in on the plan when he visited the Mexican President as President-elect and is expected to be invited soon after today's inauguration.

As a central participant in the trade and aid crucial to developing nations, the United States ought to be a vigorous participant in the conference. Mr. Reagan could arrive there with an array of good ideas already in hand.

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