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New Internationalist: Forty Years On

The magazine, New Internationalist, was first published in March 1973. Since then it has presented a lot of interesting material on global development, inequality, powerlessness and so on, and has found space over the years to include a number of letters from Socialists.

The fortieth anniversary edition published an article from its founding editor Peter Adamson, dealing with what progress there had been over four decades and accompanied by a page of statistics comparing some aspects of society in 1970 and 2010. As he notes, the first issues of the magazine were suffused by ‘the spirit of the times … overwhelmingly one of optimism’. Living standards in the UK were rising, abortion had been legalised and homosexuality decriminalised. Furthermore, many former colonies had become independent, and ‘we expected the war on want to be won.'

Over the forty years surveyed, there were many changes for the better. Life expectancy had increased from 56 to 70 globally, and from 43 to 59 in the least developed countries. Mortality rates for under-fives had decreased from 139 per thousand live births globally in 1970 to 57 in 2010; in the least developed countries, the reduction had been from 240 to 110; and in the industrialised countries from 24 to just six per thousand.

Adamson notes that ‘a great leap forward has been made towards meeting basic human needs,’ yet ‘the very poorest have often been excluded from the great gains that have been made.' Thus in Sierra Leone, life expectancy had gone up from 34 to a mere 47, and in sub-Saharan Africa almost one child in eight still dies before their fifth birthday. And want has clearly not been conquered.

Above all, though, it is inequality that has become more severe over time. Measuring this is difficult, but between 1976 and 2010 average income in low-income economies increased proportionally less than that in industrialised countries. Moreover, the share of the richest one per cent of the population is far greater now than back in the 1970s. Adamson suggests that ‘progress’ be measured by looking at the lives of the lowest quintile in a country (the poorest 20 per cent, also known as Q1).

So despite the valiant efforts of many sincere and committed people, global inequalities of wealth and power remain major problems. This is without mentioning the onslaught on the environment or the destruction caused by war. Our solution: not to improve the lives of Q1 but create a world where such notions are meaningless, where everyone shares in the wealth produced co-operatively and has equal control over their lives. This cannot be done overnight, but in a Socialist world it could be achieved very quickly.