Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting Better all the time

The recent book Getting Better, by Charles Kenny (from the Center for Global Development, World Bank, and Foreign Policy magazine), is similar to The Secret Peace but focuses on global development. It's a great book, and more succinct than mine, which is an admirable achievement. I heard him speak last night at the UN, and it was enlightening.

One of his main points is that we shouldn't be measuring all progress solely by looking at income and GDP. Income growth has been remarkable in many countries in recent decades. But we've been partially using income as a proxy when we're really concerned about standards of living. There are also plenty of countries that have advanced in many areas recently (literacy rate, education, health, etc) even though their economies are stagnant.

He described the two main reasons for this progress as a decrease in the cost of goods and an increase in demand. The "goods" decreasing in cost are not just commodities and physical goods, but health and education. Likewise, demand has increased for education and health in developing ocuntries as cultural norms change and people come to expect higher standards of living.

I agree, and that's a good way of looking at it, but I think we can still go one layer deeper, to the primary reason for progress: compounding human knowledge. This increase in knowledge is responsible for declining costs: innovations developed for the rich world end up easily spreading elsewhere. The spreading information is also responsible for cultural-norm memes about human rights and what all the world's citizens should expect in their lives (such as the brave participants in the Arab Spring expecting more from their governments.)

After the talk, I asked the question, "Is it important to spread this good news? Conversely, do you ever have doubts or fears of spreading good news about development since a lot of NGO fundraising relies on making events seem as dire as possible?" His answer was great - he says that the current method of "crying crisis" each time money needs to be raised is going to prove less effective soon, since organizations have been doing it for 60 years. People are starting to think that there's no point to donate, since there will always be crises. But by sharing the truth - that our money did help in many cases, and we can see the progress we've made, but there's still more work to be done - it should inspire people to help more and not give in to apathy.

Thanks for the event, Charles!

Check out the book on Amazon.

Nice charts and graphs that illustrate Kenny's points.

1 comment:

janet said...

Maybe one reason Americans think our education system, when it obviously isn't, is that they base it on economics and 'things' instead of qualities such as perseverance, kindness, etc.
Cool inscription!