Economics 101 & Public Square

Extreme Poverty Is Declining – Here’s Why You Might Not Have Heard about It

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Did you know that, in the past thirty years, the percentage of people in the world who live in extreme poverty has decreased by more than half? If you said no—if you thought the number had gone up; that more people, not less, live in extreme poverty—you aren’t alone.

So begins a recent article by the Barna Group, which also reveals two very startling facts:

  • Based on current data from the World Bank, the percent of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has decreased from 52% to 21% over the last thirty years. If this trajectory continues, extreme poverty will be eliminated by 2030.
  • The Barna Group’s study also found that 84% of Americans admitted they were unaware “global poverty has been reduced so drastically.” The majority of Americans (67%) said they believed extreme poverty had increased over the last thirty years.

Why have we not heard about this rapid decrease in extreme poverty, and what is causing it?

Have You Heard?

Barna offers five possible reasons, based on their research, for why people may not realize extreme poverty is decreasing. They found the following among the people they surveyed:

  • 21% believe poverty is simply inevitable and will always exist. Because it will always exist, poverty couldn’t possibly be decreasing.
  • 20% don’t think enough people care about the issue for poverty to decrease.
  • 17% feel there isn’t enough of a collective global effort to reduce poverty.
  • 17% feel the problem of poverty is too big to be reduced.
  • 14% do not trust what they see as corrupt governments in impoverished countries.

The idea that extreme poverty could be decreasing seems very counterintiutive to the perceptions people have about impoverished people and nations. One of the many reasons why IFWE released its new book, For the Least of These: A  Biblical Answer to Poverty, was to challenge these misconceptions.

The Best Hope for Alleviating Poverty

This historic reduction in poverty, for the most part, has not been the result of government redistribution of wealth, the United Nations’ national debt forgiveness, or even Christian charity. It was brought about by the spread of economic freedom.

This last week IFWE released For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty, which combines biblical theology with proven economic principles to present the case for why markets, trade, and economic freedom are the world’s best hope for alleviating poverty.

In the conclusion Jay Richards writes:

It is only a slight simplification to sum up in a single phrase the pathway to widespread wealth creation: economic freedom. I do not mean freedom just in the sense of getting to do whatever you want to do, but in the sense of “ordered liberty”—the conditions under which we can pursue our proper, God-given ends, and can engage in win-win exchanges with our fellow human beings. We now know that it is these conditions that correlate with a reduction in poverty. In general, the more economic freedom a country enjoys, the more it prospers economically.

While  progress has been made toward poverty alleviation, many well-intentioned efforts have led Christians to actions that are not only ineffective, but leave the most vulnerable in a worse situation than before. There is a better answer.

Combining biblical exegesis with proven economic principles, For the Least of These equips Christians with both a solid biblical and economic understanding of how best to care for the poor and foster sustainable economic development.

Over the last thirty years we have seen strong evidence that this approach works. The Barna Group study makes mention of this. And if we continue down this road the world could see abject poverty obliterated in the next thirty years.

Let us work and pray that this becomes a reality.

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