Unreported: Industrial Revolution and Capitalism Explain Sharp Decline in World Poverty

In September, President Barack Obama "committed the U.S. to a new blueprint to eliminate poverty and hunger around the world" in a speech at a United Nations "global summit." A review of his speech's transcript indicates that while he acknowledged the ugly reality that "800 million men, women and children are scraping by on less than $1.25 a day," he made no mention of the fact that just three decades ago, the percentage of humanity in that condition was many time times greater.

A Washington Post item on October 5 reported, per the World Bank, that less than 10 percent of the world's population is in extreme poverty" for the first time ever. Both Obama and the Post failed to give credit where credit is due, namely to the Industrial Revolution and capitalism. In an Investor's Business Daily column last week, Terry Jones set the record straight (links are in original; bolds are mine):

Sorry, Socialists, But Capitalism Is Killing Absolute Poverty

...  not so long ago, the left's big bugbear was poverty, not inequality. Then a funny thing happened: The left had to de-emphasize poverty because, as measured by the World Bank and others, absolute poverty is disappearing fast, thanks to capitalism and the collapse of communism.

That's right. Capitalism — not big government — is killing poverty. Socialism talks about poverty, but capitalism actually does something about it. As this chart shows, 200 years ago, 19 out of 20 people on Earth lived on less than $2 a day, adjusted for inflation, the definition of absolute poverty. Today, for the first time ever, less than one in 10 people live in this kind of abject state.

... Chalk up a victory for the Industrial Revolution, the 20th century's boom in capitalist factory production, the growth of global markets, the spread of cutting-edge technology and the profoundly liberating idea of personal freedom. These gifts of capitalism have enriched people the world over.

The chart to which Jones refers tells the story (via PJ Media; click to enlarge in a separate tab or window):

world_poverty_1820-2015-12-23-15-1

A sad corollary to Jones's writeup would be that the United States, as it has noticeably moved away from free-market capitalism to the government picking winners and losers (e.g., green energy) and to an obsession with "income inequality" and "wealth redistribution" during the past seven-plus years, has seen its levels of official poverty — to be clear, not at the extreme levels seen in much of the rest of the world — rise during the most recent recession and then become resistant to improvement.

One of the more significant barriers to further capitalism-based economic improvement, here and in the rest of the world, is an establishment press which:

  • Tends to view any form of financial success outside of the media itself, entertainment and sports with suspicion.
  • Is obsessed with supporting a "climate change" movement which is at bottom relentlessly hostile to capitalism and wishes to starve it of its fossil fuel-based lifeblood (some people in the enviro-zealot movement openly admit that in their ideal world they would "reverse the Industrial Revolution").
  • Despite centuries of genuine progress, still views the world as a fixed pie which needs to be equitably divvied up among its residents. The fact that alternative systems like communism which adopted the fixed-pie view have been abject and often murderous failures seems not to matter.

As Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds wrote in USA Today last week:

Globally, we’ve changed that “normal condition” (of abject poverty) by the spread of free markets and free inquiry, which have led to a global growth in knowledge and skills that has made almost everyone rich by human historical standards.

"Globally," yes. Here in the U.S. during the past seven years, though conditions are still clearly better than in the vast majority of the rest of the world, not so much. Markets are less free, and an army of bureaucrats works around the clock to restrict them further. Meanwhile, press-assisted and press-enabled political correctness is furiously at work attempting to limit free inquiry and suppress inconvenient truths. These trends need to be reversed, and quickly.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.