The Surprising Good News About World Poverty

Child's Hands Under Water Tap
At a recent Bible Study we covered Proverbs 26, which deals with the issue of foolishness and purposeful deceit. One person commented that, based on polling results, there appears to be a small percentage of the population who will support even the most ludicrous of positions. In fact, they cited a number, 12%.  I suspect that this is generally correct.

World Poverty Rate

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 7.50.52 AMI recently came across a polling result that appears to confirm this observation. A survey by Glocalities (see top left-hand chart) asked people if poverty had (a) increased by 25% or more, (b) stayed the same, (c) decreased by 25% or (d) decreased by more than 25% since 1990. It turns out that 13% believe that poverty has decreased by 25% or more.

Intrigued, I looked for corroborating data. I found similar results in a United Kingdom survey (see left-hand bottom chart) that asks a very similar question.  There’s that ignorant 12% again, right?


It turns out that over the last 25 years extreme poverty in the world has been reduced by more than 50%, and, that whereas in 1880 ~90% of the world population lived in extreme poverty today that number is below 10% (see the following chart, much more information at this link)!


How could so many people think that poverty is significantly increasing when the opposite is actually occurring? Well, most likely because we are constantly bombarded with the false, contrary position by people who claim to have authoritative knowledge on such matters.

The same people (primarily but not exclusively the Progressive Left) who claim that poverty is increasing consistently blame that (untrue) outcome on the United States. The United States became a world super-power at the end of World War II (1945). Note that by the above chart it is between then and now that the improvement in world poverty occurred. And, the massive absolute (i.e., number of people) reduction in extreme poverty occurred shortly after Communism collapsed in the then U.S.S.R. and Communist China reformed it’s economy to allow more economic (if not political) freedom (i.e., around 1990).

World Middle Class


Washington Post



Lede paragraph



Paragraphs 3 & 4

this (see left-hand figure) recent article from the Washington Post. The title is “Middle-class to make up half of planet’s population?”  The answer according to the article is “Yes!

Here’s the lede paragraph (see right-hand top figure).   Is this not amazing information?  For, if generally true, this means that not only has tremendous progress been made to reduce world extreme poverty, but also in increasing world household wealth!

But, there’s more here to challenge the Progressive narrative of the current world-order being unjust.  Paragraphs three and four deliver the shocking (to Progressives at least) news that it was the Industrial Revolution (and thus the Capitalism upon which it was based) that enabled this rise from almost universal serfdom and poverty to today’s amazing economic  “miracle” of decreasing poverty and increasing wealth.

And yet the Progressive-Left maintains that human economic freedom is an illusion by which evil Capitalists fool the general population into becoming poor so that the Capitalists can become rich.  This data argues the opposite, that economic freedom is a necessary means which, by allowing some to become very rich, allows most to experience greatly increased well-being.  But, as I have previously discussed, this reality is anathema to the Progressive movement.

Discussion and Implications

Venezuela-SocialismDoesn’t all of this suggest that there is a high burden of proof required to be met by those on the Left who demand that we scrap our current political/economic/social systems to solve the problem of world poverty? If they actually care about improved living conditions for flesh and blood humans shouldn’t they be celebrating this amazing progress rather than denying it? And, shouldn’t they have to prove to a high standard that their alternate solutions (i.e., socialism, more government power, less economic freedom, etc.) would actually improve the situation (or at least not make is far worse, see Venezuela)?

Finally, none of this changes the fact that poverty still exists at unacceptable rates throughout the world. Yes, Christians and all people of good faith should work together to eradicate poverty in ways that significantly improve human well being. Issues like clean water, proper sanitation, hunger, education, government corruption, war, energy availability, civil rights, medical care, rule of law, etc. all need continued attention.

How-can-we-shape-capitalism-to-increase-human-well-being_knowledge_standardHowever, if our goal is to actually make improvements to human life then we have an obligation to acknowledge and honor (and yes, reform and improve when necessary) that which has actually worked rather than denying because it doesn’t meet pre-determined ideological constructs.  For, if we prioritize our own desire for self-esteem over the actual improvement for human life then it is no longer humanitarianism but rather self-aggrandizement.