Wednesday, October 07, 2015

You will always have the poor among you?

Remember those guilt-tripping commercials in which Sally Struthers hugged poor kids and asked us to open up our hearts and our wallets?  Which then provided enough materials for comedians, like in this one?  The world is keen on putting all of them out of business, it seems!  Consider this:
The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.
In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.
More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.
Global poverty is in decline.  A huge decline.  How huge, you ask?
On Sunday, the World Bank announced that this year, for the first time on record, the percentage of the earth’s population that is living in extreme poverty is likely to fall below ten per cent. As recently as 1990, the proportion was more than a third. 
You want details, right?
In 1990, 60.8 per cent of the population in the East Asia and Pacific region, which includes China, lived below the extreme poverty line. By 2012, that figure had fallen to 7.2 per cent, and this year it will be 4.1 per cent, according to the bank’s projections. For the South Asia region, which includes India, the trend is similar, if a bit less dramatic. In 1990, 50.6 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty; by 2012 the figure had fallen to 18.8 per cent, and this year it will be 13.5 per cent.
You perhaps noticed that it was the data for "extreme poverty" and you think that there is now a huge increase in moderate poverty.  It is not an increase, but, yes, there is moderate poverty,:
In the poorest forty per cent of countries, according to the bank’s own figures, about half the population is still in “moderate poverty,” which it defines as existing on less than four dollars a day of income.
Poverty reduction is a huge story that should be in the front pages of every newspaper, and should be the lead story of every television news program.  But, of course, who cares about the good news when it is bad news and sex that sell!

While we celebrate it, the new global economy raises new problems:
in many developed countries the poor and near-poor are actually falling further behind. One way to see this is to look at how households in the bottom forty per cent of the income distribution are doing. When the bank’s researchers did this, they found that in seventeen of thirty-six advanced countries, per-capita income in such households has fallen since 1990.
That figure doesn’t easily jibe with the upbeat story of mutually reinforcing prosperity that trade economists used to tell. It reflects the reality of a world transformed, with globalization creating winners and losers in a manner that defies easy description. Globalization reduces some inequities, such as the scourge of extreme poverty, while accentuating others, and everywhere it causes political tensions.
The problem in dealing with all those trends is this: it takes responsible political leaders to understand such trends and then to exercise leadership in order to create a new social contract that will reflect the changing fortunes.  It will take an informed and interested electorate to think about such trends and to elect responsible and thoughtful leaders. The Economist notes about a golden era of policymaking, though it was in a completely different context of foreign policy:
What did it take to make the country act in such enlightened self-interest? According to “The Wise Men”, a history by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas published in 1986, the magic ingredients included a rarefied East Coast foreign-policy elite who could easily glide between Wall Street and high office; responsible media; a thoughtful Congress capable of bipartisanship; a public that could be united against a common ideological enemy with which America had few economic links; and a president, Harry Truman, who was a war hero.
"enlightened self-interest" seems so impossible now!

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