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D. Kilgour: Address to World Summit 2013

PhotoThank you to the Universal Peace Federation for hosting this conference for delegates from seventy countries from most parts of our shrunken planet. Your international work for peace and security, interfaith bridge building, the UN and NGO relations, building cultures of peace, and strengthening families/marriage is much to be admired and supported by persons of goodwill everywhere.

It is also an honor to be in South Korea and Seoul, especially during what the government of Canada has proclaimed “The year of Korea in Canada”. Much is going well here and your country appears to be an example of human development for the entire world. Your democracy, including the recent election of your first woman president (to be inaugurated on Monday), governance in general, strong economy and high employment levels, education-aided by many sacrificing parents, the rule of law, social programs, culture, the arts and sports—all seem today to be among the very best internationally. Even your dance “Gangnam Style” attracted more than 787 million YouTube views, the website's most watched video ever.

South Korea’s successes were recognized indirectly by the election and re-election of H.E. Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary-General. His Excellency noted in his acceptance speech, “My heart is overflowing with gratitude toward my country and people who have sent me here to serve. It has been a long journey from my youth in war torn and destitute Korea to this rostrum and these awesome responsibilities. I could make the journey because the UN was with my people in our darkest days…”

It was good that we all applauded the UN yesterday while being fully conscious of the need to reform it for today’s more difficult world.

Human development in the Americas

The topic for this panel is the Americas; I’ll focus in the very brief time still available on human development in our region. The roughly billion residents of approximately 35 independent nations in the Caribbean and South/North America are probably all at somewhat differing stages of development.

Essentially, I must agree with the thesis of the Harvard/Oxford historian Niall Ferguson in his 2011 book, Civilization-The West and the Rest, that those nations in the Americas and elsewhere that have achieved the most to enhance the lives of all their citizens have accepted that democracy requires much more than elections. Winston Churchill, notes Ferguson, probably put the point better than anyone:

“…a society based on the opinion of civilians…(where) violence…riot and tyranny give place to parliaments where laws are made, (with) independent courts of justice in which over long periods these laws are maintained. That is Civilization-and in that soil grow continually grow freedom, comfort and culture…The central principle of Civilization is the subordination of the ruling authority to the settled customs of the people and to their will as expressed in the Constitution…”

The main reason for human development differences in the Americas for Ferguson is that some populations enjoy better representative government with good constitutions and institutions of governance, the rule of law, and the sanctity of private property for all.

It was a major error for the Spanish to attempt to keep both power and land in the parts of the Americas they conquered in the hands of the Spanish Crown. It is true that for centuries, most property in Britain was held by a small number of families, but at least property rights were secure for those who held some, including much larger numbers of Brits later on. The Homestead Act in the United States gave settlers free land in the 19th century.

(A large blot on human dignity in America, of course, was not abolishing slavery for African Americans until 1863. Canada treated our indigenous peoples terribly, as mentioned earlier, even attempting to assimilate their children in compulsory and outrageous residential schools.)

Secure property rights for all owners was a major key to sustained human development everywhere in the Americas and probably everywhere else.

The crucial difference between the Iberian and British Americas, according to Ferguson, was that Simon Bolivar, el Liberator, chose not to become a South American George Washington. He eschewed a property-owning democracy and the rule of law in favor of dictatorship. This left South America on achieving independence from Spain, in Ferguson’s words, “with an enduring legacy of conflict, poverty and inequality.”

On a deeper level, Ferguson argues that three South American difficulties resulting from Spanish colonization were inexperience in democratic decision-making, the unequal distribution of land itself, and "racial cleavages that closely approximated to that economic inequality. The result was a cycle of revolution and counter-revolution, coup and countercoup, as the propertyless struggled for just a few acres more, while the creole elites clung to their haciendas…This was not a recipe for rapid economic growth.”


The key to optimal human development in the Americas and beyond today appears to be property rights, representative democracy, capitalism with a conscience (probably nudged in part by smart regulation), freedom of religion/conscience, and the rule of law.

For more information about World Summit 2013, click here.