Something happened in the 1960s.  Countries in Latin America, relatively wealthy at the beginning of the century, began to see rates of economic growth and levels of prosperity decline.  South Korea, on the other hand, emerging from mismanagement of the post-World War II years, began to realize its economic potential, buoyed by emphasis on private enterprise and free trade.

Today, South Korea, after decades of unprecedented economic growth, is one of the key economic powers in Asia, as well as globally.  On the other hand, many Latin American countries continue their struggles to lift their citizens out of poverty and generate sustainable economic growth, the benefits of which trickle down to the poor.

There is a lesson here and the person for which it is most important is the new U.N. Secretary General-designate, Ban Ki-Moon.

As he gets ready to head the U.N., expectations are high.  The U.N. is trying to overcome recent scandals, such as corruption in the oil-for-food program in Iraq.  It must also figure out how it can manage some of today’s most pressing problems, including defiant North Korea, nuclear uncertainty in Iran, and the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

However, in terms of the long-term outlook, one issue that cannot be ignored or relegated to the sidelines is the one of implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

There are eight different MDGs.  Outlined six years ago, they capture the commitment of the world’s countries to eradicating poverty, generating higher quality socio-economic institutions, and removing barriers to participation.

However, the success they have had in increasing prosperity, equality, literacy, and stability has been limited. 

There is a reason for this.  In many countries, it requires a new way of thinking about political and economic institutions.  It requires changes that cannot take place overnight, in a month, or even in a year.  Yet, change is possible.  According to the recent report on MDG implementation, countries in Asia have made important strides in reducing poverty. 

As Ban Ki-Moon gets ready to lead the U.N. for the next five years, he is facing intense pressure to reform the organization so that it gains the respectability and international weight that has been lost in recent years. 

From the looks of it, it will be a difficult five years.  There are many unresolved problems and many more are lurking beneath the surface.

Yet, successful implementation of the MDGs should be at the top of the agenda for the Secretary General.  The reason is that the development and promotion of more integrated markets will both bring prosperity to places where poverty is widespread and also help to resolve some of the political crises the U.N. is dealing with today.  There is a link between high quality economic growth and peace, political stability, improved social services, and prosperity. 

And as far as getting it done, perhaps Ban Ki-Moon can reach back into his country’s recent history and look at the foundations of the economic growth that has propelled it so far ahead.  It was not aid that led his country to where it is today – it was the creativity and entrepreneurial potential of its people.

Much of what needs to be done has also been laid out in the U.N.’s own report “Unleashing Entrepreneurship: Making Business Work for the Poor,” which was published in 2004.  This report is built on the same lessons learned in South Korea and gives the new Secretary General a perfect platform to implement the successes of the Asian Tigers elsewhere in the world. 

As such, maybe supporting private enterprise and promoting free trade is something the U.N. will focus on in the upcoming years.  And if it does, we will without a doubt see a more peaceful and prosperous world.