Sunday, June 9, 2013

Extreme poverty may disappear in our lifetimes, if we just keep up the good work

It never ceases to amaze me how much success the world has seen in reducing poverty, and even more, how few people know about it. This is probably for three reasons: we're more aware of poverty (and bad news in general) than in the past thanks to the explosion of news, our standards have been constantly increasing, and we're aware that global population is increasing (although that rate of growth is actually decreasing, another stat we're unaware of.) I think these combine to make our gut feeling that dire poverty is increasing. Thankfully, that's not true.

It seems more obvious when you realize that we've never been richer than we are today. Throughout most of history, ALL people were in dire poverty, or near to all. For every one king with a bit of gold, there were thousands of peasants. There was no middle class to speak of until recent centuries. And then during the twentieth century, poverty reduction really took of.

I have a chart in my book that shows this reduction in extreme poverty, which I've reproduced often:

But here's a new one, from an Economist article this week:

The Economist is generally more optimistic than many publications, but still, it's not often you see global stats simple labeled, "Hooray!" (Although the subtitle should say "Global extreme poverty rate, %", an important distinction. Extreme poverty is defined as people living on less than $1.25 a day. General poverty will be with us much longer.)

What makes this chart new to me is it's the first one I've seen with projections 20 years into the future. And those projections are amazing! Look, even in the worst case scenario, we're still reducing poverty, just slowly. And in the best case scenario, it's practically gone by 2030. This is stunning, and contrary to all our assumptions. Read the whole Economist article for their suggestions on the best ways to make the most progress in the coming years.