Let us tell you a secret: there are far fewer poor people in the world today compared with a decade ago.
Yet, the politics of poverty has once again become so dominant that it almost seems heartless to point out that poverty levels are dropping the world over. And you can be hammered twice over if you were to dare remind the poverty czars in governments and civil society groups that progress in poverty reduction has coincided with a larger role for markets in economic life.
Last week, the World Bank announced the results of its annual exercise to classify countries according to their average gross national income (GNI). There are now only 35 countries that the multilateral lender lists as poor, with a per capita GNI of below $1,005. There were 63 countries on this list in 2000.
While countries such as Ghana, Laos and Zambia progressed from being poor nations to lower-middle-income nations (GNI per capita between $1,006 and $3,975) in 2010, others such as China, Ecuador and Jordan moved from lower-middle-income to upper-middle-income status ($3,976 to $12,275). India, with a per capita GNI of $1,340 in 2010, continues to be defined as a lower-middle-income country, and has around 15 years to make the next grade, assuming current rates of economic growth are maintained. Right now, we are boxed between Bolivia and Papua New Guinea.
Also this month: The United Nations said in its latest review of Millennium Development Goals that the world is on track to halve poverty rates by 2015 and move closer to important health and education targets. The world is a far better place today than it was in 2000, when leaders of 189 nations agreed to work for freeing people from extreme poverty and deprivation.
To be sure, the battle is far from won. There are important issues such as gender and racial discrimination that continue to trap people in poverty. Millions are still marginalized. Meanwhile, there is a case to redefine poverty lines to create the next level of public policy commitments.
But there can be no denying that this past decade has seen significant victories in the war against poverty and deprivation.
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