- Oct 27, 2017
The world has never been better. From global poverty to inequality between nations, all the indicators are showing progress. This is a comforting narrative – popularized by the likes of Bill Gates and Steven Pinker. But is it true? Jason Hickel examines the rise of this so-called ‘New Optimism’.
As someone who has heard the talk of the reduction in poverty over the last 30 years and thought it was probably true, holy crap this article is a splash of cold water. The idea that globalism has sped up reducing poverty levels just isn't supported by the numbers. We need a global redistribution of wealth. A few highlights:
When we measure global poverty using evidence-based poverty lines, the story changes completely. At the $7.40 threshold – which is still at the low end of the metrics scholars have proposed – we find that the number of people in poverty hasn’t declined at all. Rather, it has grown dramatically since 1981, going from 3.2 billion to 4.2 billion, according to World Bank data. Six times higher than the 730 million Gates and Pinker would have us believe.
What’s more, the vast majority of the gains that have been achieved over this period have come from one region: China and the East Asian tigers. Even if we take just China out of the equation, we find that the proportion of people in poverty today is almost exactly the same as it was in 1981, with no net progress at all.
The number of people in poverty shot up by an eye-watering 1.3 billion during the structural adjustment period, and even the proportion of people in poverty rose, from 62 per cent to 68 per cent. These are striking figures. What they reveal is that neoliberal globalization during the 1980s and 1990s made poverty worse, not better.