World Poverty: Can We End Poverty Overnight?

Release Date
August 20, 2015

Topic

Economics Ethics Morality Philosophy Poverty & Inequality
Description

Americans make up around four percent of the world population and yet they control over 25% of the world’s wealth. If that wealth were shared evenly across the globe, couldn’t we solve the problem of global poverty overnight? Learn more:
The answer unfortunately is no. Sharing one’s wealth with those who have less is admirable and it often helps to relieve immediate suffering. But just sharing existing wealth we’ll never be enough to lift billions of people out of poverty in a sustainable way. To understand why we need to look at history.
This chart shows how world GDP per capita as changed from the earliest recorded history until today. In other words, it’s a shorthand way of seeing the wealth of the average human being over time. There are two things we can learn from this chart.
The first is that the extreme poverty we see today is not just a modern affliction. For the vast majority of people throughout most of human history, extreme poverty has been all they have ever known, and all their children would ever know. The second thing is that starting around 1800, that suddenly began to change. We’re living longer healthier lives and seeing fewer of our children die.
On average we’re better educated, more literate, and better fed. Transportation is faster, safer, and cheaper. In many ways it’s been the poorest among us who have benefited the most from these changes. What’s made life so remarkably better for the poor wasn’t welfare or charity. No matter how you redistributed it, all the wealth of the world in 1800 wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to give us the standard of living we enjoy in developed countries today.
What happened was the creation of new wealth on an enormous scale. In other words, economic growth. That’s why we’re living better lives than our ancestors, today. And that’s why the number of people living in absolute poverty has plummeted, not just in the last 200 years, but in the last 20. In a way, economic growth has been history’s most successful anti poverty program. But not all countries have experienced this amazing level of growth. Which is why many people are still trapped in poverty today. So if you really want to help the world’s poor, fostering economic growth ought to be our first priority. What new policies might help to grow the wealth of developing countries more quickly? Which existing policies are actually hindering that growth? Those are the questions we need to answer.

It’s Getting Better All the Time
Human Progress
SOURCES:
(0:32) World GDP Per Capita Since 1500 http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/maddison-project/home.htm Source: The Maddison-Project 2013
(0:47) Population Below National Poverty Line https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2046.html Source: CIA World Factbook 2008
(1:06) Average Life Expectancy at Birth (World) http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.IN/countries/1W?display=defaultSource: World Bank
(1:10) World Literacy Rate Age 15-24 http://data.uis.unesco.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=EDULIT_DS&popupcustomise=true&lang=en Source: UNESCO
(1:53) Percent of World Population Living on Less Than $1/Day (1970-2010) http://data.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/wdi-2014-book.pdf Source: World Bank
(2:01) GDP Per Capita by Country (Highest and Lowest) http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.CD?order=wbapi_data_value_2012+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=desc Source: World Bank

Americans make up around four percent of the world population and yet they control over 25% of the world’s wealth. If that wealth were shared evenly across the globe, couldn’t we solve the problem of global poverty overnight? Learn more: http://bit.ly/1TrH23v
The answer unfortunately is no. Sharing one’s wealth with those who have less is admirable and it often helps to relieve immediate suffering. But just sharing existing wealth we’ll never be enough to lift billions of people out of poverty in a sustainable way. To understand why we need to look at history.
This chart shows how world GDP per capita as changed from the earliest recorded history until today. In other words, it’s a shorthand way of seeing the wealth of the average human being over time. There are two things we can learn from this chart.
The first is that the extreme poverty we see today is not just a modern affliction. For the vast majority of people throughout most of human history, extreme poverty has been all they have ever known, and all their children would ever know. The second thing is that starting around 1800, that suddenly began to change. We’re living longer healthier lives and seeing fewer of our children die.
On average we’re better educated, more literate, and better fed. Transportation is faster, safer, and cheaper. In many ways it’s been the poorest among us who have benefited the most from these changes. What’s made life so remarkably better for the poor wasn’t welfare or charity. No matter how you redistributed it, all the wealth of the world in 1800 wouldn’t be anywhere near enough to give us the standard of living we enjoy in developed countries today.
What happened was the creation of new wealth on an enormous scale. In other words, economic growth. That’s why we’re living better lives than our ancestors, today. And that’s why the number of people living in absolute poverty has plummeted, not just in the last 200 years, but in the last 20. In a way, economic growth has been history’s most successful anti poverty program. But not all countries have experienced this amazing level of growth. Which is why many people are still trapped in poverty today. So if you really want to help the world’s poor, fostering economic growth ought to be our first priority. What new policies might help to grow the wealth of developing countries more quickly? Which existing policies are actually hindering that growth? Those are the questions we need to answer.