So you know how having more people in the world necessarily means more famine, disease and poverty? No, me neither. As we’ve argued before on this blog, the trouble with this view is that assumes that each new human on this planet is only a “mouth to feed” and not also a contributing member of society and the economy. This view is also historically illiterate: today the vast majority of humanity lives in conditions of unbelievable wealth and luxury compared to their predecessors of only 100 years ago.
As if further proof was needed that more people does not necessarily mean more poverty, then the World Bank has provided it. According to this article in the Guardian, for the first time ever the “number of people living in extreme poverty is likely to fall for the first time below 10% of the world’s population in 2015”. (Extreme poverty was for a long time defined as living on or below USD1.25 a day, but the World Bank has readjusted that to living below USD1.90 a day. This change reflects new data on differences in the cost of living across countries.) In 2012, 902 million people (12.8% of the global population at the time) were in extreme poverty. By 2015 that number is projected by the World Bank to decline to 702 million people, or 9.6% of the world’s population.
So, over the time that the global population has grown by about 350 million people, the number of people living in extreme poverty has not only declined as a proportion of the population, but has absolutely declined by about 200 million people. Indeed the absolute number of those living in extreme poverty has halved since 1990, at the same time that the global population has grown by around two billion people. No wonder the World Bank president is in a good mood:
“‘This is the best story in the world today,’ said World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. ‘These projections show us that we are the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.’”
The target of ending poverty by 2030 is indeed a UN target under a new set of development goals (the Sustainable Development Goals) and if current rates of poverty eradication continue then it is certainly within the realms of possibility. However, the drop in numbers of those in poverty is due to strong economic growth in emerging markets, particularly India, and if that growth were to slow or stop then it will become harder to lift those remaining 702 million people out of extreme poverty. As Laurence Chandy, a fellow at the Brooking Institute who focuses on researching global poverty stated:
“If economic growth of the developing world over the last 15 years was an anomaly, was a blip, then we’re in trouble…If instead it’s a kind new normal then we’ve got a good chance of getting close to this goal.”
Even if economic growth continues as it has, those remaining in extreme poverty are likely to be the hardest to help:
“According to the bank, around half of those living in extreme poverty by 2020 will hail from hard-to-reach fragile and conflict-affected states. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of the global poor.”
It is likely that as long as those conflicts continue it will be very hard to help those stuck in the middle to rise out of extreme poverty.
However, this news is still good! And it is another piece of evidence to be used against neo-Malthusians.