Is the world getting better?

Most people perceive that the world is a pretty rotten place and getting more rotten. We’ve got more wars/violence, more inequity, Africa getting poorer, climate change, etc.

The Economist recently published an article sharing statistics about how the world is doing looking at three categories: the underlying social condition in poor countries, poverty alleviation over the past decade and the incidence of wars and political violence. The net is that while there definitely are some rotten things going on, the net is that over all the world is a much better place for most people than it was a decade ago. Here are a few of items from the article (please read the article for more details as there are a lot!):

  • 25 years ago in China, over 600M people were living on < $1/day. Today this number is 180M … meaning 420M+ people are now above this level.
  • Between 1999 and 2004, 135M people worldwide rose from < $1/day to above this level. This is more people, more quickly than at any other time in history.
  • In South Asia, the number of people without clean water has halved since 1990.
  • In 1975, 75% of people aged 15-25 were literate. Now the rate is almost 90%.
  • In 1970, the fertility rate in East Asia/Pacific was 5.4 and now is 2.1 In South Asia, it was 60 and now is 3.1. Overall, global fertility has fallen from 4.8 to 2.6 in 25 years. Africa has all but one of the countries with fertility rates above 5.0.
  • A World Bank study noted that every 1% increase in national income her person in an emerging country translated in 1.3% fall in extreme poverty.
  • In 2007, the global economy entered its fifth year of over 4% growth — the longest period of expansion since the 1970’s. Also, trade grew 9% despite all of the challenges.
  • Almost half of all humans lives in countries with growth of more than 7% per year (which doubles the economy every decade).
  • Inequality has risen in both rich and poor countries overall, but there are examples where this is not true questioning whether globalization is the main culprit of inequality. The Economist argues that lack of [quality] education is likely the biggest culprit.
  • In 1990, more than 25% of people in developing countries lived on < $1/day. At current rates, this will be 10% by 2015.
  • Income is not the only way to quantify improvement for the poor. Monetary measures understate the real gains from things such as lower child mortality, safer water, literacy and other social achievements.
  • A study shows that the number of conflicts (international and civil) fell from over 50 at the start of the 1990’s to just over 30 in 2005. The number of international wars peaked in the 1970’s and have been falling ever since. The death toll in battle fell from over 200,000 a year in the mid-1990’s to below 20,000 in the mid-2000’s. [The WHO has higher numbers.]
  • The number of incidents of terrorism has increased since 2001 although the number is still very small.

I am not trying to say our efforts to accelerate the end of poverty should be reduced, but simply to notice and celebrate where progress has been made.

Were many of these data points a surprise to anyone else besides me?

5 thoughts on “Is the world getting better?

  1. Unfortunately the article, when I attempted to view it through your link, came out as gibberish so I can’t really read it over… My concern is probably discussed by the author(s) but I’ll put it to you anyways– while the economic gains seem robust what is the environmental consequence of this global growth? If people continue to climb out of poverty on the back of industrial development are we all getting false returns?Not wanting to be a spoil-sport… I would love to see a world improved and there seems evidence that optimism is warranted but cautiously…


  2. Blaark, you may need to get an updated version of Adobe Acrobat as I checked and it opened fine for me.Good question about environmental impacts. The article really doesn’t address this.


  3. I was aware of the China statistic; the fact that China accounts for so much of the improvement in poverty alleviation suggests to me that most traditional approaches to development have been unsuccessful. China’s success has been largely market-driven. I’m hopeful that innovative approaches to income generation, such as those offered by Unitus, International Development Enterprises (IDE), KickStart, etc. will scale up quickly and be copied by others to bring about sustainable improvement among hundreds of millions of the world’s extreme poor.


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