Progressives reluctant to recognise poverty progress

Anis Rezae

08 February 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Is the declining rate of global poverty simply a neoliberal lie, spread by the likes of Bill Gates? According to a British-based academic, the answer is yes — because the data on global poverty only ‘looks’ better because of communist China’s rapid development.

This claim is blatantly wrong for several reasons. First, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty between 1981 and 2017 thanks to industrial development across the world, and the huge economic expansion brought about due to globalisation. Data from the World Bank shows that extreme poverty has still reduced dramatically — even if we exclude China from the equation.

In fact, China’s poverty rate only fell below the world average (living on less than $1.90/day) as recently as 2005. Therefore, prior to 2005, the inclusion of China made the global poverty rate look worse — not better.

Moreover, not only is his claim wrong, but — perhaps more importantly — there is no reason to exclude China in the first place.

Exclusion would suggest that reduction of poverty in China — the most populous nation in the world — is somehow less important than progress in other parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Measures of global poverty should include all nations; it should not be about cherry-picking nations to suit particular anti-free market agendas.

Furthermore, it was not communism that reduced poverty in China. It was only after the Chinese Communist Party adopted massive economic liberalisation and exploited global trade, that it managed to lift about 800 million people out of poverty.

The country took advantage of the rise of globalisation when, in 1978, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping kicked off the ‘reform and opening-up’ campaign. Over the past few decades, this has slashed extreme poverty rates from 88% to under 2%.

Undisputedly, this is much better than starving to death under Mao.

The bottom line is: redefining poverty and excluding the largest nation in the world from the equation is a deliberate attempt to encourage a pessimistic view of capitalism. Bill Gates’ efforts to acknowledge human progress should be praised — not discredited.

Anis Rezae is a Juris Doctor student, Mannkal Economic Education Foundation scholar, and a research intern at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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