2. Fewer people suffer from extreme poverty, and the world is getting happier.
There are fewer people in abject penury than at any other point in human history, and middle class people enjoy their highest standard of living ever. We haven’t come close to solving poverty: a number of African countries in particular have chronic problems generating growth, a nut foreign aid hasn’t yet cracked. So this isn’t a call for complacency about poverty any more than acknowledging victories over disease is an argument against tackling malaria. But make no mistake: as a whole, the world is much richer in 2013 than it was before.
721 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day) in 2010 than in 1981, according to a new World Bank study from October. That’s astounding — a decline from 40 to about 14 percent of the world’s population suffering from abject want. And poverty rates are declining in every national income bracket: even in low income countries, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day in 2005 dollars) a day has gone down from 63 in 1981 to 44 in 2010.
We can be fairly confident that these trends are continuing. For one thing, they survived the Great Recession in 2008. For another, the decline in poverty has been fueled by global economic growth, which looks to be continuing: global GDP grew by 2.3 percent in 2012, a number that’ll rise to 2.9 percent in 2013 according to IMF projections.
The bulk of the recent decline in poverty comes from India and China — about 80 percent from China *alone*. Chinese economic and social reform, a delayed reaction to the mass slaughter and starvation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, has been the engine of poverty’s global decline. If you subtract China, there are actually more poor people today than there were in 1981 (population growth trumping the percentage declines in poverty).
But we shouldn’t discount China. If what we care about is fewer people suffering the misery of poverty, then it shouldn’t matter what nation the less-poor people call home. Chinese growth should be celebrated, not shunted aside.
The poor haven’t been the only people benefitting from global growth. Middle class people have access to an ever-greater stock of life-improving goods. Televisions and refrigerators, once luxury goods, are now comparatively cheap and commonplace. That’s why large-percentage improvements in a nation’s GDP appear to correlate strongly with higher levels of happiness among the nation’s citizens; people like having things that make their lives easier and more worry-free.
Global economic growth in the past five decades has dramatically reduced poverty and made people around the world happier. Once again, we’re better off.
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