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Global growth

AS THE 20th century draws to a close, there are a few things we know -- I mean really know. For example, you would have to be living on another planet not to know that technology is changing the way we live.

The Internet is opening up opportunities that are as profound as those created after the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus. Medical technology is lengthening our lives and enabling us to do things only science fiction writers would have dared to mention just a few short years ago. Telecommunications is so sophisticated that we can talk to anyplace on the globe from any other place on the globe at a price that is shockingly low. If technology continues to advance at the current pace, we have every reason to believe that our lives and the lives of almost everyone on earth will improve dramatically in the 21st century.

But we know other things as well. For instance, nearly one-sixth of the world's population, or roughly one billion people, are on the verge of starvation. Tens of thousands of them will die today. Another two billion people, or roughly one-third of the world's population, are under-nourished, and they spend most of their time working so they can buy food and survive. They have no political or economic clout. They do not influence world events. They do not take vacations, and they and their children cannot read or write. Their plight almost never makes the headlines of even the most cosmopolitan newspapers unless there is a famine, a war, an earthquake or a flood that provides a good backdrop for a human interest story. It is surprising that a world as technologically advanced and wealthy as the one we live in can be home to so many desperately poor people.

So as we prepare for the 21st century and a presidential election in November 2000, what are leaders and wannabe leaders in the United States thinking about? President Bill Clinton has lots of things on his mind, and newspaper reporters in Oslo, Norway, were quick to notice the extra time and attention he gave a young, attractive elementary school teacher he happened to meet while he was there recently working to establish peace in the Middle East. It seems he lingered a while shaking her hand and smiling longingly at her. In fairness to the president though, Hilary has been heavily involved in her campaign for the U.S. Senate, and she has been, how do you say, out of touch lately. What's a boy to do?

Texas Gov. George W. Bush has his work cut out for him these days. He has promised that if he is elected president of the United States, he will learn the names of other world leaders. His plan for our future is an excellent one, even if he cannot explain what it is, and there are no substantive proposals to consider. But what a great impression he makes on the stump. He is almost as good as Bill Clinton when it comes to video clips -- I mean kissing babies and feeling people's pain.

Al Gore has a record to run on, and he has made the environment his No. 1 priority. Did you read his book, "Earth in the Balance"? If you did, you might believe the only thing contributing to global warming is man-made pollution. Do you think Gore's science advisors ever told him that more pollutants were spewed into the atmosphere in one day after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo than man has created since the beginning of the industrial revolution? If they did tell him, would it make any difference? I think not.

Bill Bradley wants to be president, too. After an illustrious career in the NBA and several terms in the U.S. Senate, he thinks he is prepared for the top job. When asked recently to name people he admires most he listed Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson and Mikhail Gorbachev. Jimmy Carter served one term as president, and by the time he was trounced by Ronald Reagan in 1980, legislators from his own party would not even talk to him. Gorbachev was ousted from his job in the USSR shortly before his country came apart. Wilson is best remembered for proposing the League of Nations and for not being able to lead the United States to be part of it. I do not mean any disrespect, but it looks as though the people he admires have gone down in flames. His presidential bid probably will, too.

Let's not forget Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). He is a Vietnam War hero and a senator in good standing, but his colleagues in the Senate say he might not have the right temperament to be president. Just what that means, I do not know, but it raises questions in my mind about what it takes to be president. Let's see, the current president is best known for what? Temperament I guess. Are they saying he is not like Bill Clinton?

And last but not least, there is Pat Buchanan. Having served as an advisor to President Nixon, a television talk show host, a syndicated writer and perennial presidential candidate, he thinks he's the right man for the job. If he were elected president, he might construct an iron curtain (to use Winston Churchill's phrase) to keep people out of the United States. Our iron curtain would be different from the one in the USSR, which was to keep their people in. If Buchanan had been president when my family emigrated from Germany, I would not be here today. Some people may think that would be fine, but my great-grandfather would not agree.

I have left out other wannabe presidents like Donald Trump, Cybil Shepard and Warren Beatty, to name a few. Not one of our candidates for president seems to realize that the population of the United States represents less than five percent of the global population and that very soon we will account for less that four percent of the world's population. How long do they think the rest of the world will allow us to pretend they do not exist -- or worse yet, to treat them like we know they exist and that they do not matter? Global leadership in the 21st century will mean a great deal more than creating wealth in the United States.

(Neil H. Snyder is a Beeton Professor of free enterprise in the McIntire School of Commerce.)

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