1: Imagine this headline: Number of People in Extreme Poverty fell by 137,000 yesterday.

Actually, the newspapers could have run that headline every day of the last 25 years, notes Dr. Max Roser in Steven Pinker‘s powerful book: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

Many people believe we are living in the worst of times.  

The data is crystal clear: These people are wrong, Steven writes.  

Exhibit one: The chart showing the percentage of the world’s population who live in “extreme poverty.”  

“In 1800, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, most people everywhere were poor,” Steven notes.” The average income was equivalent to that in the poorest countries in Africa today (about $500 a year in international dollars), and almost 90 percent of the world lived in what counts today as “extreme poverty” (less than $1.90 a day).”

Today, less than 10 percent of the world’s population live in extreme poverty.  

That’s an “economic miracle.”  

Actually, that’s the power of capitalism.  

By 1975, the U.S. and Europe had completed what Nobel Prize winning economist Angus Deaton calls the “Great Escape.”  Since then, most of the rest of the world has followed suit.  Almost half of the drop in extreme poverty has happened in the last 35 years.  “The world had become richer and more equal,” Steven writes.  

2: “Most surprises in history are unpleasant surprises, but this news came as a pleasant shock even to the optimists.  In 2000, the United Nations laid out eight Millennium Development Goals,” writes Steven.  “At the time, cynical observers of that under-performing organization dismissed the targets as aspirational boilerplate.  Cut the global poverty rate in half, lifting a billion people out of poverty, in twenty-five years?  Yeah, yeah. 

“But the world reached the goal five years ahead of schedule,” Steven observes. 

“This is perhaps the most important fact about well-being in the world since World War II,” notes Angus.

“The consequences for human welfare involved are simply staggering,” states Nobel Prize winning economist John Lucas, “Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.

3: Is it possible we will eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime?

The short answer?  Yes.  

In 2015, the UN set a target of “ending extreme poverty for all people everywhere” by 2030.  

The point of calling attention to this incredible progress is not self-congratulation.  Instead we are wise to identify the causes “so we can do more of what works,” Steven writes.  

And, clearly, there’s work to do: “Hundreds of millions of people remain in extreme poverty, and getting to zero will require a greater effort than just extrapolating along a ruler,” Steven observes.  “Though the numbers are dwindling in countries like India and Indonesia, they are increasing in the poorest of the poor countries, like Congo, Haiti, and Sudan, and the last pockets of poverty will be the hardest to eliminate.  Also, as we approach the goal we should move the goalposts, since not-so-extreme poverty is still poverty.”

What are the causes of this “economic miracle”?  

More tomorrow.


Reflection:  Am I surprised by the data above?  Why or why not?  

Action: Share this information with a friend or colleague who is convinced we live in the “worst of times.”

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