You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Mar 17, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Human development: Rise of the South — and Francis

By Wayne Baker

0318 Rise of Pope Francis at Vatican.jpg

On March 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina became the first international religious leader to come from south of the equator when Catholic cardinals elected him the next pope. He is pictured appearing on the Vatican balcony. Photo in public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing the rise of the Global South.

The most recent sign of the Rise of the South was the election last week of Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina to become the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Among other things, this choice signals that the future of the Catholic Church resides in the South. His election also highlights the rise of the Global South in human development.

Each year since 1990, the United Nations has published a human development report that evaluates each nation for economic development and human well-being. The Human Development Index is a single number that summarizes each nation’s development. The index measures life expectancy, levels of formal education, and gross national income per person. This single number produces a list of the “most developed” to “least developed” nations.

Who’s at the top? Norway, Australia, and the United States take the top three spots, according to the just-released 2013 report.

But the big news in this report is the rise of the South. While all nations improved their levels of human development (in itself good news)—the development of the South outpaced all other regions.

As the authors of the report put it: “The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale. Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people change so dramatically and so fast. Great Britain, where the Industrial Revolution originated, took 150 years to double output per capita; the United States, which industrialized later, took 50 years.”

Can the South eclipse the North?

How long did it take China and India to double output? Fewer than 20 years—and each of these giant nations had over 1 billion people in it, compared to fewer than 10 million each in Great Britain and the U.S. when they started to industrialize.

Now, the South generates about half of the world’s economic output. By 2050, just three nations combined—China, Brazil, and India—are expected to produce 40 percent of the world’s economic output. In 1950, these three together produced only 10 percent.

How did this unprecedented growth take place?

What challenges does it post for the nations in the South?

What challenges does it post for the U.S.?

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.