Recently, a report came out that deserves our attention and perhaps even our celebrating. In this modern society we live in with all its faults and frustrations, it is always good when we can find a feel-good story for humanity to revel in, even for just a moment. And this feel-good story isn’t small; it’s not a cat being rescued from a tree, or a family of ducks that safely made it across a busy highway. No, this feel-good story took place on the largest stage, our world.
Last week, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim made the following pronouncement, “Over the last 25 years, (the period from 1990 to 2015) more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time.” I read this sentence and I did a double-take. One billion people. Twenty-five years. Greatest achievements of our time. Wow.
According to the World Bank, the number of people who live in extreme poverty, which is defined as $700 per year, or about $1.90 a day, has shrunk to 10 percent in 2015. And while that seems very high, in 1990 that number was 36 percent. Preliminary estimates for 2018 put the world extreme poverty rate at 8.6 percent. The World Bank has a goal that by 2030 only 3 percent of the world’s population would live in extreme poverty. They are well on their way.
Nearly every corner of the world has seen a drastic reduction in extreme poverty; the only places to see increases where North Africa and the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, there is work to do, but undoubtedly our world is a better place now than where it was 25 years ago.
When I think about 1990, the world was a much different place. It was a world largely without email addresses, let alone smartphones. Computers weren’t connected to the larger world. Even cable television and it’s 50 to 60 channels seems quaint by today’s standards. Many kids were excited that Super Mario Brothers 3 was the new game to play. Personally, I was making a few bucks passing out the Troy Daily News to the good people of South Clay Street.
Also our world was still fully in the grips of the Cold War. The world was largely divided with the Communist Russians against the Americans. By the end of 1991, the writing was on the wall for Communism, the Soviet Union folded and today just a few communist states exist. The People’s Republic of China is still around, but given their economic prowess and welcoming of some private industry, I doubt Marx or Lenin would think that China is communist. The North Koreans are nominally Communists and Cuba is still hanging on.
And once the wall fell in Berlin and the hammer-and-sickle was taken down one last time in Moscow, millions of people who never enjoyed freedom were now given opportunities that they never had. Freedom of the press, freedom of movement, religious freedom was popping up not only in Eastern Europe, but other places as well where Communism was strong. At the same time capitalists were seeing new markets and new customers. In 1992, the world’s largest McDonalds opened in Beijing.
Our world’s economy has grown tremendously over the last 25 years and while we have benefitted here in the United States, we haven’t been the only ones. The entire world, especially those in the greatest need have benefitted as well.
Since 1990, our world hasn’t been pitched in the eternal battle of the geo-political Cold War. Our system based on democracy and capitalism won out. And ever since then, the quality of life for those living on this planet has improved. Are things perfect? Hardly. Are things better? Without a doubt. Are there still things we can fix? Absolutely.
It is not a mere coincidence that the large scale defeat of Communism has led to a better economic life for over 1 billion people. I also believe that if Communism had won out, we would not able to celebrate the achievement we are today.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.