“The world is a mess, with billions of people locked in inescapable cycles of war, famine and poverty, with more children than ever perishing from hunger, disease and violence.That’s about the only thing Americans agree on; we’re polarized about all else. But several polls have found that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same over the last 20 years.
Fortunately, the one point Americans agree on is dead wrong. As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 per person per day) has tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s six million lives a year saved by vaccines, breast-feeding promotion, pneumonia medicine and diarrhea treatments!Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.
O.K., you’re thinking that I’ve finally cracked up after spending too much time in desperate places. So a few data points:
■ As recently as 1981, when I was finishing college, 44 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. Now the share is believed to be less than 10 percent and falling. “This is the best story in the world today,” says Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.
■ For the entire history of the human species until the 1960s, a majority of adults were illiterate. Now 85 percent of adults worldwide are literate and the share is rising.
■ Although inequality has risen in America, the global trend is more encouraging: Internationally, inequality is on the decline because of gains by the poor in places like China and India.The U.N. aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, and experts believe it is possible to get quite close. In short, on our watch, we have a decent chance of virtually wiping out ills that have plagued humanity for thousands of generations, from illiteracy to the most devastating kind of hand-to-mouth poverty.” ”
Please read the entire op-ed piece before reading my comment below.
Great piece Saint Nick, thank you.
I wish I were fully on board, but I’m not. Overpopulation is now threatening the majority of species, and might end the run of humans. We are in the Anthropocene, and witnessing the Sixth Extinction. We have gone from 2 to 7.5 billion humans in just 100 years. Tom Friedman reported this last month that the world famous Edward O Wilson of Harvard, an entomolgist, predicts that in the next 84 years, we are on course to lose 85% of all the species on the planet. Your good news ignores that the population growth rates in Africa are out of control, and the growth rates you mention as an improvement, might not be low enough to save us from destroying life on earth as we know it.
What I love about your piece, is that you focus on the misery, the pain and suffering index, which is laudable. But I fear the Sixth Extinction is real, the great water and resources wars are coming, and it should be all hands on deck for reducing world population to a sustainable level for the biosphere, and life on this planet that we enjoy, as we continue to poison and rape it.