In his book "Head to Head" Lester Thurow (then dean of MIT's Sloan school of management) outlines scenarios for 21st century economic competition between Europe, the US, and Japan. He says that most poor countries, and most of the world's poor population, simply will not have any influence on the world's economy since they have no influence now, and their average annual increase in productivity is less than their increase in birth rates. Thurow says that a century or so is required even with strong net gains for poor countries to reach advanced nation status, but poor countries instead have birth rates exceeding productivity gains. Further, he notes that education is essential for productivity; the average western child receives perhaps $250,000 in private and public support before reaching college. Poor countries simply cannot provide that level of support.
Thurow's conclusions are questionable; for example Paul Klugman, Thurow's ex-colleague at MIT, disputed many of Thurow's theses, arguing instead that technology and internal economies within each country are more important than trade. However, many Asian nations, starting with the patterns set by Taiwan, Korea, Hong-Kong, and Singapore, and extending recently to the huge populations within China, Malasia, Thailand, and other countries, are developing based largely on trade, and specifically by exporting, at least initially, primarily to US markets.
Social idealism may be a decisive factor in international relationships. In particular, altruism and righteousness are reflected by the world's media, that is increasingly international in its composition and influence. Subsistence-level economies imply apocalyptic conditions, with incredible poverty in the world's underdeveloped countries.
There are precedents for advanced countries contributing significantly to overseas development. Just after World War II the US relationships with Europe including Germany, and with Japan, helped all countries, and proved to serve US interests. The European powers eventually helped their colonies become independent, despite considerable financial losses, possibly due to righteousness at home as well as in the colonies. The US similarly is giving up its potential for world dominance, using its nuclear potential, in favor of development of international trade.
Such developments are complex, involving the internationalization of media, with diminishing prejudice and bigotry surrounding racial, religious, and national differences in trade relationships. Underdeveloped countries see the advantage of developing, with the clear-cut examples of Japan and other east Asian countries. Advanced countries face increasing public awareness of exploitation, with negative media reports aout foreign "sweatshops" that now make much of the world's goods, particularly clothes.
With advancing technology and increasing altruism, development in most countries is a real possibility. China and India, with almost 40% of the world's population, are examples both of the realities of the opportunities and of how much more must be accomplished. The eastern European countries are developing, with particular progress in east Germany and northeastern Europe. The southern hemisphere's lack of development is particularly appalling in Africa, while South America is making progress, and many Middle Eastern countries are beginning to compete with some success.
The world may no longer accept underdevelopment, since we cannot simply ignore apocalyptic conditions even if they are on the other side of the world, due to the media's "global village" images. Massive aid and intervention come to mind as alternatives to simply ignoring undeveloped nations. International trade offers great promise to end local sinkholes of underdevelopment, and greater hope for an emergence of the world as a whole into peace and prosperity. But the key is neither politics or trade; instead it may lie simply in our righteous refusal to accept abysmal conditions in any locality, and instead to attempt to improve the situation. Within each locality, education, particularly on birth control and diseases, can be promoted through media's influences.