Amid stories of terrorism, government incompetence and corruption, mass migration and economic stagnation, there’s actually some good news: Global poverty has fallen below 10% for the first time ever.
That’s right: A new study by the World Bank estimates that less than 10% of the world’s population is living in what it calls poverty — an income of less than $1.90 per day. Twenty-five years ago, over a third of the global population was living on less. The biggest changes have come in East Asia and around the Pacific, but even sub-Saharan Africa, the worst place in the world for incomes, has improved significantly, with poverty dropping from 56% to an estimated 35.2% since 1990.
For most of human history, of course, extreme poverty was the norm. People worked hard to get — if they were lucky — three meals a day and clothes on their backs. Money was scarce, possessions were few, leisure existed only when all the work was done, which was seldom, and capital for investment was scarce — as were things to invest in.
Deaths from sickness and violence were common: As Steven Pinker has noted, human beings back in the era before nation states developed had a 15% chance of dying by violence; numbers today are vastly lower. This is true, he notes, despite the number of deaths from wars and civil wars.