9 charts to be thankful for this Thanksgiving
November 28, 2019 6:55 PM   Subscribe

life expectancy and literacy are up, and global poverty is down. For most Americans, these feel like bleak times. We have a president whom a majority of Americans want impeached. Overt, old-fashioned racism is publicly visible and powerful in a way it wasn’t only five years ago. Climate change is exacerbating wildfires and other natural disasters and making air in states like California nearly unbreathable. This is all real, and truly alarming. But it would be a mistake to view that as the sum total of the world in 2019. Under the radar, some aspects of life on Earth are getting dramatically better. Extreme poverty has fallen by half since 1990, and life expectancy is increasing in poor countries — and there are many more indices of improvement like that everywhere you turn.

But many of us aren’t aware of ways the world is getting better because the press — and humans in general — have a strong negativity bias. Bad economic news gets more coverage than good news. Negative experiences affect people more, and for longer, than positive ones. Survey evidence consistently indicates that few people in rich countries have any clue that the world has taken a happier turn in recent decades — one poll in 2016 found that only 8 percent of US residents knew that global poverty had fallen since 1996.

It’s worth paying some attention to this huge progress. The people benefiting aren’t missing it — 50 percent of Chinese respondents in the 2016 poll said they knew poverty had fallen — and you shouldn’t either. Nothing’s permanent, and big challenges like climate change and the potential collapse of liberal democracy remain, but the world is getting much, much better on a variety of important, underappreciated dimensions.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (59 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Another counterpoint:

Last week, as world leaders and business elites arrived in Davos for the World Economic Forum, Bill Gates tweeted an infographic to his 46 million followers showing that the world has been getting better and better. “This is one of my favourite infographics,” he wrote. “A lot of people underestimate just how much life has improved over the past two centuries.”

...Pinker and Gates have gone even further, saying we shouldn’t complain about rising inequality when the very forces that deliver such immense wealth to the richest are also eradicating poverty before our very eyes.

It’s a powerful narrative. And it’s completely wrong.


Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:56 PM on November 28, 2019 [17 favorites]


Y'all are doing thanks giving wrong.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:05 PM on November 28, 2019 [21 favorites]


also
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:08 PM on November 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


But perhaps the biggest flaw in Hickel’s case is that it ignores all the other data corroborating the story that poverty has fallen. Gates didn’t just tweet that one graph — he tweeted a set of six. Two of the other graphs show dramatic increases in literacy rates and years of education. A third shows a steep fall in infant mortality. Still other graphs that Gates didn’t tweet show declines in hunger and undernourishment. If global poverty had really increased, these improvements would almost certainly not have been possible.

Also suicide rates are down, often by a lot, in every other country.
posted by factory123 at 9:20 PM on November 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


Still can't help wishing that there was some correlation between wealth and an increase in mortality.

If evolution wiped out dinosaurs due to their size, leaving only birds as their successors, I keep hoping that climate change might be the vector to rid the world of its extreme wealth and, just imagine, how evanescent the successors would be.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 9:44 PM on November 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also suicide rates are down, often by a lot, in every other country.

I know, but this is an American holiday.
posted by leibniz at 10:05 PM on November 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Evolution did what now?
posted by great_radio at 10:08 PM on November 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


Also suicide rates are down, often by a lot, in every other country.

I know, but this is an American holiday.


So we're not supposed to be thankful that suffering is abating in other countries?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:11 PM on November 28, 2019 [29 favorites]


THERE'S LOTS OF JOBS MAKING GRAPHS NOW
posted by thelonius at 10:12 PM on November 28, 2019 [20 favorites]


This takes U.S.data when that's better and worldwide data when that's better. So a counterpoint: worldwide smoking is up, U.S.life expectancy is down (albeit only slightly).
posted by Hactar at 12:25 AM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Let's look at how the world is getting better" is the counterpoint. You don't need to countercounterpoint it.
posted by oulipian at 12:35 AM on November 29, 2019 [17 favorites]


If global poverty had really increased, these improvements would almost certainly not have been possible.

This does not follow. A billionaire in the 1700s has worse access to his medical care than a fairly poor person today. Technology moves on, and that can help improve the situation for many. But that doesn't mean that someone kicked out of a hospital bed onto the street with a massive bill they can't pay and no home to go to isn't poorer than the aristocracy of two hundred years ago, even though the former is getting treatment for something that likely would've killed the latter.
posted by Dysk at 2:13 AM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


I know this dynamic: the statistics say I'm rich, but I don't feel it. My friend A is richer! I'm sad about Y! I worry about staying rich!

I'm still rich though.

If you are an American, then in a global context you are like me, rich.

What we generally do, we rich people, is hang out with other people about as rich. Then we share the same opinions, and it is comfortable. We get sympathy when we complain about getting passed over for promotion, or the high cost of new windows, instead of there being some mean guy pointing out that we have food and clean water and shelter so we should just count ourselves lucky. That just makes us feel worse!

This post is the mean guy, and makes you uncomfortable, so must be wrong wrong wrong. But that's not true. Global poverty is down.

Which is good, even if it makes us rich people feel bad.
posted by alasdair at 3:00 AM on November 29, 2019 [23 favorites]


Meanwhile, where I live: Georgia maternal death rate, once ranked worst in U.S., worse now
posted by hydropsyche at 4:45 AM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Great, all we had to do to get rich was give all our money away to zuckerburgs and gateses, then cede our governments to them, cause a mass extinction, and burn the world to the ground, I feel so good about our future guys.
posted by eustatic at 4:49 AM on November 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


>This post is the mean guy, and makes you uncomfortable, so must be wrong wrong wrong. But that's not true. Global poverty is down.

Which is good, even if it makes us rich people feel bad.


okay but now do the same speech while also acknowledging that the bulk of the reduction in extreme poverty is due to increased wealth specifically in china
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:53 AM on November 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


> Great, all we had to do to get rich was give all our money away to zuckerburgs and gateses, then cede our governments to them, cause a mass extinction, and burn the world to the ground, I feel so good about our future guys.

this isn’t a story about american neoliberalism. it’s a story about chinese authoritarian state capitalism. we need to assign credit and blame appropriately.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:58 AM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


There's a strong whiff of Pinkerism about this.
posted by acb at 5:26 AM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Pinker: Best of all possible worlds, except for girls kept as sex slaves, but who really cares about them anyway.

I guess that's hard to understand for those of us who are members of "a gender to whom a desire for impersonal sex with an unwilling stranger is too bizarre to contemplate."
posted by hydropsyche at 6:10 AM on November 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


The increase in worldwide goat populations indicates that more goats will die in 2020 than in most previous years
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:30 AM on November 29, 2019 [7 favorites]


🐐 🐐 🐐 💀 💀 💀
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:36 AM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Wow that Hinkel piece is a pretty egregious example of how to mislead with statistics.
posted by simra at 6:49 AM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Pinker: Best of all possible worlds, except for girls kept as sex slaves, but who really cares about them anyway.

I guess that's hard to understand for those of us who are members of "a gender to whom a desire for impersonal sex with an unwilling stranger is too bizarre to contemplate."


The surprising thing to me is not that he believes in that kind of stuff, but that he is repeatedly willing to put it in writing. The blind spot on this issue is huge, and there is a (totally correct) perception that saying these things won't seriously harm a career.

This post is the mean guy, and makes you uncomfortable, so must be wrong wrong wrong. But that's not true. Global poverty is down.

Which is good, even if it makes us rich people feel bad.


Huh? It is the reverse -- this kind of framing about declining global poverty through increased opportunities makes rich people feel good. They are not on the hook or being blamed for anything, and are (arguably) given some credit for the reduction in poverty.

There is a less comfortable version of the story that could be told also, that would focus on China's trajectory (as mentioned above) as well as state- and grassroots-driven policy changes that forced redistribution to the poor. If you want to make rich people feel uncomfortable, talk of redistribution works well, versus the "all boats are rising" narrative.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on November 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


Here’s a thought experiment: pick a time that was “better” than now. Let’s say the economic boom of the 1960s. Would you go back if you had to accept other attributes of that time, like the Vietnam War, the lack of opportunity, access to higher education, and other discrimination against women and minorities, homophobia, the pollution (no EPA, no Clean Water Act, DDT killing off birds, LA smog), the political violence, the division of the world into East and West, the death rates from heart disease, cancer, communicable diseases, etc.?

For the 1990s, one could make a similar list.

Some things are worse now, wealth inequality, the cost of housing and education, and the opioid epidemic being the worst in IMO. But many things are better. How about we be thankful for those things that are better and work like hell to improve those other things rather than engaging in some sort of “we have it worse Olympics?”
posted by haiku warrior at 7:04 AM on November 29, 2019 [22 favorites]


For me the problem is that so much of this prosperity has been bought on credit in the form of unsustainable resource consumption, particularly fossil fuels. The bill will come due, and sooner than any of us would like.
posted by jedicus at 7:34 AM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


I've had a really bad day yesterday. It's been a rough few years and it's finally looking up for me sort of but yesterday was a very stark reminder of my father's approaching mortality. I stumbled upon something hopeful and thought it would be nice for the season. Clearly no one on metafilter believes in good faith anymore or anything but doom and death. If that's the case , I'll leave you all to your Eeyore-ing. I have work to go to.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:39 AM on November 29, 2019 [70 favorites]


So here's the thing: we expect things to get better. Technology marches forward, science marches forward, communication increases, et cetera.

People who say, "look on the bright side, things have gotten better" are not optimists. They're distractions.

We shouldn't be happy that we have cell phones and flat screen TVs and cars. We should rightfully be angry that so much of the promised progress has been siphoned off to line the pockets of the wealthy.

If you invested money into your retirement fund, and your investment manager told you that you'd have $2 million upon age 65, and then you only had $250,000, it'd be cold comfort to be told, "look on the bright side! A cool quarter mil!" Someone stole the rest of it.

Universal healthcare? Stolen. 30 hour work week? Stolen. Universal Basic Income? Stolen. Environment? Stolen. If we'd followed the trajectory of the New Deal and the future envisioned for our nation in the 50s and 60s (see: The Jetsons), if we'd listened to Silent Spring or An Inconvenient Truth, we'd be in a better place.

The hedonic treadmill is real. We get comfortable with a TV as easily as a hoop and a stick. So we really need to look at quality of life, not just all the things we have. Our air sucks, our water sucks, our jobs are grinding us to the bone. Don't piss on us and tell us it's raining.
posted by explosion at 7:41 AM on November 29, 2019 [21 favorites]


Inequality is rising. We may have more than we had before, but not as much more as we should have. If we work together on a project, and sell our first batch of widgets, and I get $10 and you get $1, is it a sign of progress that the next batch I get $1000 and you get $2. How could you complain? You have literally twice as much as before! But it still sucks. It still does not represent progress, it represents a worsening of conditions for you in many ways. The injustice is greater.
posted by Dysk at 7:55 AM on November 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


> Here’s a thought experiment: pick a time that was “better” than now. Let’s say the economic boom of the 1960s. Would you go back if you had to accept other attributes of that time, like the Vietnam War, the lack of opportunity, access to higher education, and other discrimination against women and minorities, homophobia, the pollution (no EPA, no Clean Water Act, DDT killing off birds, LA smog), the political violence, the division of the world into East and West, the death rates from heart disease, cancer, communicable diseases, etc.?

how old am i. how old is the person being asked to make this choice.

if i’m my current age when asked about this, i pick the present day. if i’m a teenager, i take the time travel option, solely because i would prefer to die of old age rather than climate change.

a lot of people are mistaking this for oppression olympics or whatever. that’s nonsense. this is not oppression olympics. it is a discussion of whether sweeping political upheaval is necessary or if instead things are just fine and everyone should be happy and thankful and watch tv and post on the Internet etc. etc. etc.

the people taking the pinkerist line — “everything is great and getting better all the time!” are not arguing for thankfulness. they are arguing for quietism.

if you really believe what you’re saying, you are arguing for the superiority of the prc over all other systems. if you really believe what you’re saying, i urge you to interrogate your stance on the current conflict between the prc and hong kong freedom activists.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:02 AM on November 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


Things are getting better if you squint your eyes real hard.

Things are messy and ill-suited to sweeping generalizations if you look at them closely.
posted by fnerg at 8:08 AM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've been reading about the medieval European economy lately, and it has led to a mishmash of thoughts about poverty, power, and production.

The Hickel article linked above says:
Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor.
This was more-or-less true of much of Europe up to the 1550s or so (plus or minus a few decades depending on exactly where you were) when European states started really getting their act together and, in effect, colonizing their own populations, making them work harder and longer to support militaries and luxury consumption. The amount of time that poor people had to spend working just to feed themselves got dramatically worse, very quickly, just as it did in every part of the world that Portuguese cannons and Spanish tercios and English and Dutch capitalists showed up.

On the other hand, part of the reason that things were so relaxed for poor people in Europe before the 1550s was that so many people were dying young from disease. Smaller labour forces meant more labour power.

We aren't going back to that now, though, short of a global disaster much worse than what's being promised for climate change. Going from poor nation to rich nation means industrializing, and for pretty much every nation that has involved what those doing it might call "disciplining the workforce". You can't spend your childhood wandering around with the sheep; you have to spend days and days and years and years sitting in classrooms, learning to read, learning math, learning about time clocks, learning to internalize and celebrate self-discipline. That prepares you to spend more years Being Productive, working and working and working.

That - people working and working and working, given a big boost by fossil fuels - is what makes nations rich. That's why most nations which successfully industrialized went through a period that looked an awful lot like fascism, with a small number of eager industrializers - whether bourgeois, communist, or military - controlling the state and using its repressive power to force large numbers of people to learn more and to work more.

How the mass of people get rich is by forcing the wealth created by their work to be spread around. That wealth doesn't get created in the first place without that hard work, though. You can get a relaxed Late Medieval economy with half the days of the year set aside for some kind of feast or holiday and no need for school or factories, but you can't get a rich economy that way.
posted by clawsoon at 8:11 AM on November 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


what if the productive/extractive capacities of capitalism far outstrip those of any other system that has heretofore existed. what if the productive technologies developed by researchers and engineers working in the interests of capitalists could, if placed under the control of the working classes, allow the great mass of people to live comfortable – even luxurious – lives with a minimum of toil. what if we could finally at long last reap the benefits of automation?

what if we could live these luxurious fully automated lives in space.

what if we could live these luxurious fully automated lives in space and also be super super gay.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:25 AM on November 29, 2019 [11 favorites]


"You can get a relaxed Late Medieval economy with half the days of the year set aside for some kind of feast or holiday and no need for school or factories, but you can't get a rich economy that way."

The Keynesian dream is both.

Your argument is that you don't get rich without endless hard work. Graphs of productivity and inequality show that you don't need as much hard work (in the first world at least) as you used to in order to get the same amount of rich, but that we're putting in the work without seeing the commensurate increase in everything else, because the benefits are being skimmed by the already rich.

The Hinkel and Bloomberg links BOTH admit that the decrease in poverty is because of China, India, and southeast asia in general, which means little to us here.

Yes, we're better off in the US still, than some other countries, (and worse than others) but that doesn't meant things shouldn't be improved. Like people who point to declining gun violence in the US and argue for inaction, when we still have more gun violence than other first world countries.

Like I said earlier, if you look closely, things are messy and ill suited to sweeping generalizations.
posted by fnerg at 8:34 AM on November 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why rich people are given any credit for anything. If things get better rich people grab most of the grains for themselves and crow about letting the poors have enough to post a meager improvement.

Just imagine how much bigger the improvement might have been without the parasitism of people like Gates. Remember when we hated his guts? 'mazing how things change.
posted by klanawa at 8:50 AM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


Vox: "Good News, everyone!"
MetaFilter: "BURN THE WITCH!"
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:45 AM on November 29, 2019 [26 favorites]


vox: "here's a happy lie"
metafilter: "get out of here with that shit"
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:11 AM on November 29, 2019 [14 favorites]


like i would like to remind any futurama fans in the audience that professor farnsworth would say "good news, everyone!" right before telling the crew to do something that would probably get them killed.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:12 AM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Homo neanderthalensis, I came in here specifically to thank you for this.

I have had a lot of days of bleakness and despair in the past few years, and I feel like giving in to that despair is an actual sin, an actual failing on my part. I feel like I have an obligation to find glimmers of hope, because I feel like I owe it to the world (and myself, also, but mostly to everybody else) to try to make things better, to try to heal the appalling and unforgivable damage that's happening right now.

I seek out examples of people who stubbornly insist on believing that they can make a difference even in the face of clear evidence that nothing they do will change anything - suffragists, civil rights leaders from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. William Barber, the brave and tenacious Wiyot people.

I subscribe to Future Crunch because I need to be reminded that progress is possible and some things are better for some people, because I need to keep up my belief that I can make a difference, so that I don't stop making phone calls and donating when I can and trying to nudge along the arc of the moral universe. The latest Future Crunch reports that

The number of children dying from pneumonia, "the ultimate disease of poverty," has decreased from 6,410 per day in 1990 to 2,216 per day in 2017.

and

The world’s largest multilateral financial institution, The European Investment Bank, has agreed to stop all financing for fossil fuels within the next two years.

and

A new survey across 167 countries has shown that tolerance towards LGBTQIA+ people has risen in almost every region of the world in the last decade.

I mean, I can look at all that and say "yeah but that's still 2200 kids getting pneumonia every day and we're still burning down the world every time we get in our cars and I know people right now today who are being harmed by horrific government-sanctioned discrimination" - but that would just make me want to hide under the covers for a decade (by which point the world would end) and give up.

I will not give up.

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being another voice saying "there's SO MUCH wrong, but at least there are literally millions of people who actually ate a meal today who wouldn't have been able to do that just a few decades ago."

As the saying goes, it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. As the days get shorter and the dark seems greater, I am grateful for every candle.

Thank you.
posted by kristi at 10:24 AM on November 29, 2019 [62 favorites]


happy lie You got a source for that strong claim?

Dina D. Pomerantz and Todd R. Jones have some nice graphs with more of the data.

Basically, life expectancy, access to nourishment and clean water are up around the globe, childhood mortality and poverty are down across the globe. It's not just China and India, although improvements anywhere are worth celebrating. I don't see why the US is the only place that should count.

The numbers are striking, but if your political priors require the belief that the world is a hellscape of suffering, I doubt any data would change your mind.
posted by factory123 at 10:48 AM on November 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


We get it, RNTP. Your gimlet eye sees the bad in all things. Some of us are trying to notice the good things for one fucking minute.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2019 [25 favorites]


Looks to me like this thread has turned into a fight between "if people don't hear occasionally that something is getting better somewhere in the world, they will give in to despair and lose all motivation to do anything positive themselves" and "if people spend any time believing that anything is getting better somewhere in the world, they'll become so complacent that they'll lose all motivation to do anything about the stuff that is bad."
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:35 AM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


kristi, thanks for saying that better than I could.
posted by asperity at 11:41 AM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I (WaPo)
Life expectancy in the United States declined again in 2017, the government said Thursday in a bleak series of reports that showed a nation still in the grip of escalating drug and suicide crises. [...] Public health and demographic experts reacted with alarm to the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual statistics, which are considered a reliable barometer of a society’s health. In most developed nations, life expectancy has marched steadily upward for decades.

“I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”

“After three years of stagnation and decline, what do we do now?” asked S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Do we say this is the new normal? Or can we say this is a tractable problem?” [...]

Sharfstein said the most lamentable aspect of the crises is that policymakers know which approaches make a difference, such as medically assisted treatment for drug abusers and increased availability of mental health services in states where they are lacking. “So the frustration that many of us feel is that there are things that could save many lives,” he said, “and we are failing to make those services available.”
posted by katra at 11:42 AM on November 29, 2019


While I do not know the circumstances of those choosing the time travel option, but it seems unlikely that they are black, Latinx, female, LGBQT, have disabilities, suffered from debilitating childhood diseases, have endured the deadly air of 1960s LA or Pittsburgh, the foul water of the Cuyahoga or Merrimac Rivers, worries about being drafted, or been maimed in the kind of industrial accident that was commonplace fifty years ago. Climate change is a huge challenge (for example), but it is not fate, and there is hope—who would have imagined that 20% of US power generation would be from renewables in 2020?

Defeatism and pessimism will not change the world. Those who see the reality that many, many things are better and have the cleared eyed-optimism for improving other things with creativity, imagination, cooperation, and plain hard work will make the world a better place even for those who have given up on it (and probably who won’t be much help, either).
posted by haiku warrior at 11:48 AM on November 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


Let's see Bill Gates with his graph of Metafilter sentiment over time, huh, LET'S SEE THAT
posted by clawsoon at 11:56 AM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


‘There’s something terribly wrong’: Americans are dying young at alarming rates (WaPo)
The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was immediately hailed by outside researchers for its comprehensive treatment of a still-enigmatic trend: the reversal of historical patterns in longevity.

Despite spending more on health care than any other country, the United States has seen increasing mortality and falling life expectancy for people age 25 to 64, who should be in the prime of their lives. In contrast, other wealthy nations have generally experienced continued progress in extending longevity. Although earlier research emphasized rising mortality among non-Hispanic whites in the United States, the broad trend detailed in this study cuts across gender, racial and ethnic lines. By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates from 2010 to 2017 — 29 percent — has been among people age 25 to 34.
'A distinctly American phenomenon': Our workforce is dying faster than any other wealthy country, study shows (USAToday)

fwiw, I read these reports as emphasizing the urgency with which we must do everything in our power to cultivate hope and fight despair.
posted by katra at 12:04 PM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


what if it was possible to believe that many things are getting better without also thinking that they are perfect

what if we were able to introduce nuance into our worldviews

what if we didn't kneejerk deny actual science because it doesn't line up neatly with our politics
posted by schroedinger at 12:07 PM on November 29, 2019 [26 favorites]




like, acknowledging that global poverty is going down is not equivalent to signing off on income inequality and human slavery, and it is sort of bizarre and disturbing that some of you seem to think it is
posted by schroedinger at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2019 [16 favorites]


schroedinger: like, acknowledging that global poverty is going down is not equivalent to signing off on income inequality and human slavery, and it is sort of bizarre and disturbing that some of you seem to think it is

Part of it is suspicion of the messenger (not you, Homo neanderthalensis!), which is understandable. Like when a community activist says, "This school is underperforming!" you feel hopeful because you know they're going to work to bring more resources to the school, but when a neoliberal thinktank says, "This school is underperforming!" you get a shudder of fear because you know they're going to try to impose some draconian higher-test-scores-or-no-funding scheme on it.
posted by clawsoon at 12:30 PM on November 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


It all depends on where you place the poverty line. From the Hickel piece:
But that’s not all that’s wrong here. The trend that the graph depicts is based on a poverty line of $1.90 (£1.44) per day, which is the equivalent of what $1.90 could buy in the US in 2011. It’s obscenely low by any standard, and we now have piles of evidence that people living just above this line have terrible levels of malnutrition and mortality. Earning $2 per day doesn’t mean that you’re somehow suddenly free of extreme poverty. Not by a long shot.

Scholars have been calling for a more reasonable poverty line for many years. Most agree that people need a minimum of about $7.40 per day to achieve basic nutrition and normal human life expectancy, plus a half-decent chance of seeing their kids survive their fifth birthday. And many scholars, including Harvard economist Lant Pritchett, insist that the poverty line should be set even higher, at $10 to $15 per day.

So what happens if we measure global poverty at the low end of this more realistic spectrum – $7.40 per day, to be extra conservative? Well, we see that the number of people living under this line has increased dramatically since measurements began in 1981, reaching some 4.2 billion people today. Suddenly the happy Davos narrative melts away.
posted by chaz at 1:18 PM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's unfortunate that many can only see the world through the lens of the extraordinarily privileged American white heterosexual males who could earn a good living in with a high school degree (or less) in an industry job and had no interest in relationships with people of other ethnic groups (Loving v. Virginia, anyone?) and cared little for the oppression of women, LGBTQ, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities in this country experienced or the crushing, deadly poverty endured by people in other countries.

Those dumping on the people who can see that the lives of many have improved even if their own or some others has not improved will not bring a better life to anyone. Surely there more constructive ways to channel that energy.

No one here who is saying that there are some good things happening is advocating letting up on addressing bad things. We can celebrate winning battles and simultaneously acknowledge victory in the war is far off.

Honestly, the pessimists, doomsayers, and defeatists should get out of the way of the people who have been and will continue making the world a better place. They are not helping.
posted by haiku warrior at 1:40 PM on November 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


One reason that some parts of the world got better - especially in South America and Africa - is that the Cold War ended and they stopped being places where the US and the USSR fought proxy wars. We stopped shipping quite so much money and guns to murderous dictators on the basis that they were our murderous dictators, and that gave people a little more room to make their own lives better in the ways that they wanted to make them better.
posted by clawsoon at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


So what happens if we measure global poverty at the low end of this more realistic spectrum – $7.40 per day, to be extra conservative? Well, we see that the number of people living under this line has increased dramatically since measurements began in 1981, reaching some 4.2 billion people today. Suddenly the happy Davos narrative melts away.

I dug into the data, and this is pretty misleading.

The World Bank PovCalNet allows you to put in your own poverty line and see the resulting estimates since 1981. So I put in Hickel's $7.40. The 2015 estimate of people below that line is 4.12 billion, which is quite close to his number. It is also up a fair bit since the earliest measurements in 1981, when it was 3.18 billion.

But virtually all of the increase in people below this poverty line happened between 1981 and the mid 90s; in 1993, the population below this poverty line was 4.05 billion. In fact, the highest absolute number of people below $7.40 was back in 2002 at 4.45 billion; it's been dropping for the past 13 years measured.

And that's ignoring the fact that the world population is growing. The actual fact is that in 1981, 70.47% of the world's population lived below the $7.40 poverty line; now, that's 55.93%. And the rate of impoverishment has dropped in each of the seven regions the World Bank reports; since 1993 (the first year PovCalNet reports all seven regions). Yes, East Asia and Pacific has led the way with poverty down from 96% to 51% (although this region also includes Thailand and Vietnam, both of which have had similar poverty rate reductions to China). But poverty is also down from 51% to 23% in Eastern Europe/Central Asia; from 61% to 38% in Latin America; from 74% to 58% in the Middle East/North Africa. It's dropped more slowly in other places; 98% to 92% in South Asia, and 94% to 91% in Subsaharan Africa, as well as 2.7% to 2.3% in the high income countries. But still moving in the right direction.

Excluding China -- because of course pulling 800 million people out of poverty isn't a good thing if it stops us taking a shot at capitalism -- the rate of poverty below $7.40 has gone from 62.1% in 1981 up to 68.5% in 1999 and is now down to 58.7%. Since 1999, the number of people below $7.40 outside of China has gone up by 240 million from 3.28 to 3.52 billion; the number of people above that line outside of China has gone up by 960 million from 1.51 to 2.47 billion.

Over the most recent 20 years available (1996 to 2015), the world has gone from 1.6 billion above the $7.40 poverty line to 3.2 billion. Here's what that looks like.

PS: I hereby acknowledge that bad things still exist.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:59 PM on November 29, 2019 [15 favorites]


No one here who is saying that there are some good things happening is advocating letting up on addressing bad things. We can celebrate winning battles and simultaneously acknowledge victory in the war is far off.

But the deeper disagreement is over what "the war" itself is: is inequality inherently a "bad thing" that needs to be addressed, or is inequality a side-effect, something that we might tolerate as long as conditions are improving fast enough for people on the bottom?
posted by Pyry at 7:23 PM on November 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


The standard way to resolve this argument is something like, "Yes things are awful for many, and also they are getting significantly less awful, in aggregate, than before. These can both be true at the same time, we can walk and chew gum at the same time."

But is that true? Can we actually walk and chew gum at the same time? Maybe that is naive. Maybe in the deep parts of the brain where political motivation comes from, we only have room for one simple mood about the world. We can say the words "a function and its derivative can have different signs" but we can't feel it. To form a political stance in practice, we just go with "World = GOOD" or "World = BAD" because that's all our hardware can handle.

When I say "we" of course, I'm really talking about most people, not literally including me. I'm a being of pure logic.
posted by officer_fred at 4:46 AM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Well. Metatalk. In general, I'm not optimistic, but there are rays of light that penetrate the gloom and I would like to be able to enjoy that without the aroma of thread-shitting.

The entire Internet is all about You're Doing It Wrong and Yeah, But. It is possible to choose not to do that all the fucking time.
posted by theora55 at 6:51 AM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


It’s Thanksgiving post, gang. If you are someone who cannot be thankful for the good things that are happening in your own life or the lives of others, then please save your comments and arguments for another thread. H. Neanderthalis did a good thing in the spirit of the day, and a bunch of comments rather ruined it.

We can argue about what the war is or if humans can “walk and chew gum at the same time” in another thread.
posted by haiku warrior at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


Ugh, Noah Smith. The first time I mixed it up with him on Twitter was from his claims that the primary driver of Chinese wealth was market reforms, and his insistence that GDP per capita is the best measure of human progress. Suppose you shouldn't expect more from someone who gleefully proclaims themselves "chief neoliberal shill" but then hews to an idiosyncratic definition that side-steps the complaints about ie Breton Woods institutions.
posted by klangklangston at 5:18 PM on December 2, 2019


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