It is time to celebrate the global REDUCTION in POVERTY!
While in college, I lived in a Mexico City orphanage for six weeks. It was a life-altering experience. My eyes were opened to the plight of people who were poor. I said to the Lord, “When I die, there needs to be less poverty in the world than there is today.” Little did I know I would spend 27 years working for an international relief and development organization, and many more years fighting to help people out of poverty into economic freedom.
When we talk about poverty, we tend to focus on the physical and the economic. But over the years I have come to understand that poverty is not simply material, it is comprehensive. People can be poor socially and spiritually, poor in knowledge, wisdom, and character. When we speak of development, we need to speak comprehensively as well. People may be materially affluent and spiritually or emotionally destitute.
Too many people suffer abject poverty today, but the little known good news is that global poverty has been greatly reduced over the last few decades. We have written about these hopeful signs before: Shalom: Watch God at Work in History, and Global Hunger: Moving in the Right Direction.
One of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind is taking place at this moment and few people have heard about it.
In 1970, an estimated 60 percent of the world’s 3.7 billion people were living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90/day. Today the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty is under nine percent.
A reduction in poverty that nobody knows about!
This good news includes some bad news. This rapid reduction of global poverty is the most important historic event of our lifetime. The bad news? Most people are ignorant of this miracle. Only five percent of the US population understands that global extreme poverty has declined by over 50 percent in the last 20 years. Most North Americans think the rate of poverty has doubled in the last 20 years. (For more on this USA Ignorance Survey go here.)
While this progress is extremely impressive, it should not blind us to the fact that there are still millions of people in extreme poverty. This should cause us to weep and act.
This drop of extreme poverty began in Holland in the 17th century. In the 18th century it moved into England, Scotland and the North American colonies. For the full picture of the rise out of poverty in 200 countries in 200 years go here.
Some developed nations have virtually eliminated extreme poverty. Others, like India and China, are rapidly on their way. As an example, the July edition of The Hindu digital news announced that India lifted 271 million people out of poverty in 10 years. This is amazing, and a testimony as to how rapidly change can occur. For the complete The Hindu article, go here.
Africa is the continent with the greatest base of natural resources and yet suffers the deepest poverty. But Africa is beginning to emerge. Nations like Mauritius and Botswana have made remarkable progress toward eliminating extreme poverty. Others like Mauritania and Ethiopia are on track to achieve this goal by 2030. Still other nations continue to languish in poverty. Angola is one. Ironically, another is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources.
Another person escapes poverty every two seconds
While most of the world is moving out of poverty, experts estimate that five percent of the world’s population will still reside in extreme poverty in 2030. Yet far more people are leaving poverty than entering it. The United Nations Global Poverty Clock depicts this dramatically. which estimates that every two seconds another person escapes extreme poverty.
The realities by which people escape poverty have little to do with natural resources or money. Witness two examples: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rich in resources yet impoverished; and Singapore, five million people on a 700 square kilometer island with virtually no natural resources. Both testify that the issue is something besides material resources in the ground.
The greatest lift is coming from moral and metaphysical capital, namely, changes in culture that promote
- The rule of law
- Economic freedom
- Freedom of press and speech
- Freedom of conscience and religion
- The dignity of women
- Education that leads people to think and reason
See the following links for further information on the relationship between
- Corruption and poverty
- Economic freedom and poverty reduction
- Freedom of the press and poverty reduction
Dr. Marvin Olasky of World Magazine was a communist in his university days, but came to realize that redistribution did not solve poverty. He wrote a recent article, “Wars on Poverty: Getting the Right Ammunition,” in which he listed a number of books he has found helpful. We were pleased to see three of our books on his list! Go here to read the article.
While there is still far too much physical hunger and economic poverty, the world is moving in the right direction. Take heart! Let’s celebrate this historic achievement and then roll up our sleeves and engage in the fight.
- Darrow Miller