True, these are broad categories and measurements, and Friedman himself goes on to explain that there may be variations among subsets of countries, which his study did not delve into. For that matter, there are UN-defined targets and measurements involved which do not necessarily reflect the enormous complexities of human progress (or lack of it). In the myriad interactions of politics, economics, and individual preferences, there is more at work than is dreamt of in any UN philosophy.

But broadly speaking, Friedman is highlighting data and questions that ought to be the subject of rapt attention and genuine debate at a UN that advertises itself as dedicated to helping the poor — and solicits billions of taxpayer dollars in the name of that cause. The MDGs have become one of the UN’s justifications for its ever-growing appetite for money. Meanwhile. the most highly visible and consistent beneficiaries of the UN Millennium Development Goals are not the poor. The clear beneficiaries are the first-class passengers on the UN gravy train — UN officials themselves, along with the constellations of well-paid consultants and jet-set conference-goers. The MDGs began with a huge New York summit for the signing of the Millennial Declaration, which Annan has since described as one of the highlights of his UN career. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has carried on in similar vein, touting and lauding the MDGs, and urging that member states pour resources into this UN campaign. The UN has held not only the initial 2000 Millennium Summit, but an MDG 2005 summit, a 2008 “High-Level Event,” a 2010 summit, countless conferences around the globe, and with the original MDG deadline of 2015 now getting near, there are plans afoot for a program of post-2015 MDGs.

The deeper problem here is that the MDGs, for all their lofty aims, amount in many ways to simply a UN-repackaged version of central planning. While we can all agree that it is profoundly desirable to end poverty, the real avenue to that goal is not a set of bureaucratically defined targets, but decent government, protecting a framework of law that leaves individuals free to choose for themselves the tradeoffs with which they try to improve their lives. At a UN where the majority of the 193 member states are not free market democracies, that’s a goal much harder to promote than a set of slickly packaged MDGs. But if the aim is to make a difference, that’s what needs galvanizing. Something the U.S. ambassador could usefully contribute would be to call attention to Friedman’s study, and ask the assembled worthies, in public, why on earth the UN would have the arrogance to consider such damning findings irrelevant.