It’s a simple question:
In the last twenty years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has:
- almost doubled?
- remained more or less the same?
- almost halved?
When you ask that question of people around the world, very few get the answer right. In fact, only 7% give the correct answer, which is C. Yes, poverty has dramatically fallen in the last decades. It’s a remarkable achievement that’s hard to overstate.
In 1800, 85% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Even as recently as 1966, the number was still 50%. Today, it’s down to 9%. We’ve almost eradicated one of the worst scourges of the human condition, and most people don’t even know it. Even smart, educated people living in developed countries around the world are ignorant of this great achievement. Why such unfamiliarity with how the world is changing? Why are we so misinformed about such a fundamentally important aspect of our planetary health?
This is the question at the heart of Hans Rosling’s recently published book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World and Why Things are Better Than You Think. Rosling died in 2017, a sad loss for all of us who came to love his creative and data-driven style of showing how modernity has transformed the world for the better. In Factfulness, published posthumously, Rosling details all the many ways in which things are improving, and how blind most of us are to those facts. From population growth, to endangered species, to poverty, to health, to child labor, to natural disasters, to energy access, Rosling cheerily expands on the ways in which progress has been not only remarkable but near universal over the last two centuries. He joins commentators like Stephen Pinker in the noble effort to factually counter the all-too-common pessimism that pervades the media, popular culture, and certainly the intelligentsia.