November 27, 2004


Good News About Poverty (DAVID BROOKS, 11/27/04, NY Times)

[W]e're in the 11th month of the most prosperous year in human history. Last week, the World Bank released a report showing that global growth "accelerated sharply" this year to a rate of about 4 percent.

Best of all, the poorer nations are leading the way. Some rich countries, like the U.S. and Japan, are doing well, but the developing world is leading this economic surge. Developing countries are seeing their economies expand by 6.1 percent this year - an unprecedented rate - and, even if you take China, India and Russia out of the equation, developing world growth is still around 5 percent. As even the cautious folks at the World Bank note, all developing regions are growing faster this decade than they did in the 1980's and 90's.

This is having a wonderful effect on world poverty, because when regions grow, that growth is shared up and down the income ladder. In its report, the World Bank notes that economic growth is producing a "spectacular" decline in poverty in East and South Asia. In 1990, there were roughly 472 million people in the East Asia and Pacific region living on less than $1 a day. By 2001, there were 271 million living in extreme poverty, and by 2015, at current projections, there will only be 19 million people living under those conditions.

Less dramatic declines in extreme poverty have been noted around the developing world, with the vital exception of sub-Saharan Africa. It now seems quite possible that we will meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which were set a few years ago: the number of people living in extreme poverty will be cut in half by the year 2015. As Martin Wolf of The Financial Times wrote in his recent book, "Why Globalization Works": "Never before have so many people - or so large a proportion of the world's population - enjoyed such large rises in their standard of living."

As Mr. Brooks points out, there's still a swathe of the Middle East and Africa that hasn't yet started developing in the way it will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 27, 2004 4:07 PM

The Middle East will never develop as long as they continue to be Muslim. Subsaharan Africa will never develop as long as they maintain the phony boundaries imposed on them by European imperialists and as long as they continue to use tribalism and resentment as political forces. Neither region lacks talented people, it is just that the energies of each region are sidetracked into nonsense.

BTW, I just bought a pair of pants made in Swaziland and they are quite well done.

Posted by: Bart at November 27, 2004 4:51 PM

Tunisia and Morocco are already verging on being developed democracies. Iraq and Palestine will soon join them. The belt of Arab-Muslim states is developing exactly as one would have expected it to.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2004 6:03 PM

The status of Tunisia and Morocco is essentially unchanged from that which existed at independence from the enlightened rule of the French. There is a narrow coterie of Francophones which lives in the real world but the vast bulk of the populace is still stuck in the Dark Ages. It is only through force of arms that the Islamist loony-tunes haven't taken over both nations. Islam, with its restrictions on capital formation and its cultural discouragement of non-religious learning, is completely ill-suited to the modern era.

Posted by: Bart at November 27, 2004 6:33 PM

Bart, I'm not sure that you can criticize "phony boundaries" and tribalism at the same time. Wouldn't "real" boundaries be tribal?

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 27, 2004 6:35 PM


The tribes would have separate boundaries, so tribalism would cease to exist. There might be cross-border rivalries as there have always been but you wouldn't have people butchering each other for ethnic reasons inside states. This problem is not restricted to Africa, it certainly exists in Bosnia.

If a nation is 100% Yoruba, what point is there in a politician saying 'Vote for me because I'm Yoruba.' However, in modern Nigeria, which is about 30% Yoruba, a simplistic campaign like that can get you into the runoff for the Presidency.

Posted by: Bart at November 28, 2004 5:51 AM