The Good (and Bad) News About Poverty and Global Trade

  • 2016-01-05
  • The New Yorker

What’s the big news about the world economy this week? If your answer is that the United States and ten Pacific Rim countries have agreed on the terms of a new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, you’re half right. The completion of the T.P.P., which Bernie Sanders and others on the left regard as a sop to Wall Street, Big Pharma, and other big-business interests, is a significant moment, and it sets up yet another political battle on Capitol Hill.

But there was another significant development, which is connected to the ongoing debate about the T.P.P., and which has received rather less attention. On Sunday, the World Bank announced that this year, for the first time on record, the percentage of the earth’s population that is living in extreme poverty is likely to fall below ten per cent. As recently as 1990, the proportion was more than a third. “This is the best story in the world today—these projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty,’’ Jim Yong Kim, the head of the World Bank, said in a statement accompanying the release of the new figures.

The transformation certainly is remarkable. Twenty-five years ago, according to the bank, 37.1 per cent of humanity lived below its metric for the global poverty line, which is now roughly $1.90 a day. This year, according to the bank’s new projections, the proportion living in extreme poverty will be 9.6 per cent. To put it another way, since 1990 the number of people in extreme poverty has fallen from close to two billion to about seven hundred million. About 1.3 billion people have been lifted above the poverty line. Even if these figures are off by twenty or thirty per cent, the change would still be extremely significant.

Image Credit: tookapic