March 19, 2013


A New Concert of Nations : In 1990, a billion people earned enough income to consider making discretionary purchases. By 2010, the figure had more than doubled. (TOM NAGORSKI, 3/19/13, WSJ)

Anyone feeling the weight of the world's woes will be grateful for Kishore Mahbubani's "The Great Convergence," a sweeping survey that proves to be, in large measure, a counterweight to global gloom and doom. Mr. Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, is under no illusions about the troubles we face, but he takes the longer view, reaching back a few decades to see an upward trend and to marvel at how far we have come.

Under Mr. Mahbubani's lens, we see a plunge in the rates of extreme poverty and early-childhood deaths; a rise in literacy; a drop in the number of armed conflicts. "Major interstate wars," says Mr. Mahbubani, "have become a sunset industry." The good-news numbers are remarkable. In 1990, one billion human beings earned enough income to consider making discretionary purchases beyond mere necessity; by 2010, the figure had more than doubled. Mr. Mahbubani has lived this change. He was raised, he says, in "a typical third world city . . . [with] no flush toilets, some malnutrition, ethnic riots and, most importantly of all, no sense of hope for the future." The city was Singapore, today an economic juggernaut with a per-capita income that outranks America's.

Such statistics are presented as evidence of a "great convergence," a phrase that Mr. Mahbubani first spotted in a Financial Times column by Martin Wolf, in which the columnist was describing a convergence of global interests, values and economic fortunes. Of course, nothing says "convergence" like the rush to connectivity, and while we know this story well, Mr. Mahbubani's treatment still startles: Eleven million cellphone subscriptions, world-wide, in 1990; 5½ billion today. In 1985 the world's fastest computer, the Cray 2, the size of a washing machine, was prohibitively expensive and required coolants to avoid overheating. Today the Cray 2's match is the iPad 2, and it runs on 10 watts of power.

Posted by at March 19, 2013 8:26 PM

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