January 9, 2016


Prosperity Rising : The Success of Global Development--and How to Keep It Going (Steven Radelet, 12/14/15, Foreign Affairs)

Since the early 1990s, daily life in poor countries has been changing profoundly for the better: one billion people have escaped extreme poverty, average incomes have doubled, infant death rates have plummeted, millions more girls have enrolled in school, chronic hunger has been cut almost in half, deaths from malaria and other diseases have declined dramatically, democracy has spread far and wide, and the incidence of war--even with Syria and other conflicts--has fallen by half. This unprecedented progress goes way beyond China and India and has touched hundreds of millions of people in dozens of developing countries across the globe, from Mongolia to Mozambique, Bangladesh to Brazil.

Yet few people are aware of these achievements, even though, in aggregate, they rank among the most important in human history. [...]

Global poverty is falling faster today than at any time in human history. In 1993, about two billion people were trapped in extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as living on less than $1.90 per day); by 2012, that number had dropped to less than one billion. The industrialization of China is a big part of the story, of course, but even excluding that country, the number of extreme poor has fallen by more than 400 million. Since the 1980s, more than 60 countries have reduced the number of their citizens who are impoverished, even as their overall populations have grown.

This decline in poverty has gone hand in hand with much faster economic growth. Between 1977 and 1994, the growth in per capita GDP across the developing countries averaged zero; since 1995, that figure has shot up to three percent. Again, the change is widespread: between 1977 and 1994, only 21 developing countries (out of 109 with populations greater than one million) exceeded two percent annual per capita growth, but between 1995 and 2013, 71 such countries did so. And going backward has become much less common: in the earlier period, more than 50 developing countries recorded negative growth, but in the later one, just ten did.

The improvements in health have been even bigger. In 1960, 22 percent of children in developing countries died before their fifth birthday, but by 2013, only five percent did. Diarrhea killed five million children a year in 1990 but claimed fewer than one million in 2014. Half as many people now die from malaria as did in 2000, and deaths from tuberculosis and AIDS have both dropped by a third. The share of people living with chronic hunger has fallen by almost half since the mid-1990s. Life expectancy at birth in developing countries has lengthened by nearly one-third, from 50 years in 1960 to 65 years today. These improvements in health have left no country untouched, even the worst-governed ones. Consider this: the rate of child death has declined in every single country (at least those where data are available) since 1980.

Meanwhile, far more children are enrolling in and completing school. In the late 1980s, only 72 percent of all primary-school-age children attended school; now, the figure exceeds 87 percent. Girls in developing countries have enjoyed the biggest gains. In 1980, only half of them finished primary school, whereas four out of five do so today. These leaps in education are beginning to translate into better-skilled workers.

Then there is the shift to democracy. Prior to the 1980s, most developing countries were run by left- or right-wing dictators. Coups and countercoups, violence and assassinations, human rights abuses--all formed part of regular political life. But starting in the 1980s, dictators began to fall, a process that accelerated after the Cold War. In 1983, only 17 of 109 developing countries qualified as democracies, based on data from Freedom House and the Center for Systemic Peace; by 2013, the number had more than tripled, to 56 (and that's not counting the many more developing countries with populations of less than one million).

As those numbers suggest, power today is far more likely to be transferred through the ballot box than through violence, and elections in most countries have become fairer and more transparent. Twenty years ago, few Indonesians could have imagined that a furniture maker from central Java would beat one of Suharto's relatives in a free and fair election, as Joko Widodo did in 2014. Nor would many have predicted that Nigeria, then still under military rule, would in 2015 mark its first peaceful transfer of power between parties, or that Myanmar (also called Burma) would hold its most successful democratic election the same year. Across the developing world, individual freedoms and rights are honored to a much greater degree, human rights abuses are rarer, and legislative bodies have more power.

Yes, many of these new democracies have problems. And yes, the march toward democracy has slowed since 2005--and even reversed in some countries, such as Thailand and Venezuela. But in many more--from Brazil to Mongolia to Senegal--democracy has deepened. Never before in history have so many developing countries been so democratic. 

As states have become wealthier and more democratic, conflict and violence within them have declined. Those who think otherwise should remember that as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s, much of the world was aflame, from Central America to Southeast Asia to West Africa. There were half as many civil wars in the last decade as there were in the 1980s, and the number of people killed in armed conflicts has fallen by three-quarters.

Three major forces sparked this great surge in development progress. First, the end of the Cold War brought an end to the superpowers' support for some of the world's nastiest dictators and reduced the frequency of conflict. As ideas about economic and political governance began to change, developing countries introduced more market-based economic systems and more democracy. Second, globalization created vast new opportunities for economic growth. Increased flows of trade, investment, information, and technology created more jobs and improved living standards. Third, new and more effective leaders--in politics, business, religion, and civil society--began to forge deep change. Where courageous figures, such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa, stepped forward, countries progressed; where old-style dictators, such as Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, remained in power, countries languished.

Contrary to Samuel Huntington, there is no viable alternative to democracy/capitalism/protestantism and that Anglosphere model works for all peoples.

Posted by at January 9, 2016 8:31 AM