Economics 101 & Public Square

New Global Poverty Stats Reveal Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Recently, while speaking at a college, I asked students if world poverty was on the rise or on the decline. Many of them answered that they believed poverty was on the rise—and they are in good company.

A 2014 Barna poll revealed that two-thirds of people in the U.S. also think that worldwide poverty has increased over the last 30 years. Fortunately, they are wrong.

The World Bank reported last week that the number of people in extreme poverty around the world dropped to under 750 million for the first time since 1990 when the World Bank began collecting global statistics. In fact, over the last 25 years, more than one billion people have been raised out of abject poverty—defined by the United Nations as living on less than $1.90 a day.

Unprecedented Economic Growth, Quality-of-Life Improvement

This is the most significant movement out of poverty in human history, and if this trend continues, we could see extreme poverty almost completely eradicated in the twenty-first century. Yet, this historic economic movement was not the result of government redistribution of wealth, national debt forgiveness, or even Christian charity. It was brought about by the spread of economic freedom. As Jay Richards writes in IFWE’s book For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty:

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 these conditions correlate with a reduction in poverty. In general, the more economic freedom a country enjoys, the more it prospers economically.

Economic freedom is the key to greater opportunity and an improved quality of life. It’s the freedom to choose how to produce, sell, and use your own resources, while respecting others’ rights to do the same. Economic freedom drives prosperity in the world and is the reason some societies thrive while others do not.

Economic freedom is essential because it affects nearly every aspect of a person’s life. As Anne Bradley discussed last week, living in a society with high levels of economic freedom leads to higher incomes, lower poverty, less unemployment, longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, higher literacy, cleaner environments, and a host of other benefits. More economic freedom equals improved well-being and higher quality of life. Economic freedom, then, is one measure of what the Bible calls “flourishing.” Yet economic freedom does not exist in a vacuum.

Economic Freedom Depends on Political and Religious Freedom

Art Lindsley, IFWE’s Vice President of Theological Initiatives, explains in the IFWE booklet Free Indeed that the three-legged stool of economic freedom, political freedom, and religious freedom depends on each “leg” to cultivate a flourishing society. If there is a reduction of political freedom, for example, it can inhibit economic growth. We see this in the World Bank statistics.

While the poverty rate has dropped worldwide, there is one region where it has actually increased: Sub-Saharan Africa. Part of this can be explained by the rapid population growth over the last twenty-five years, but many of the countries in this region have significantly less political freedom than other countries in the world.

Again, Art Lindsley speaks to this in Free Indeed:

There is a desperate need for a preservation (and recovery) of political, economic, and religious freedom within a context of biblical morality. There is also the need for government to protect that freedom…The future of the U.S. and other nations depends on the degree to which we preserve our freedoms. There is a biblical basis for freedom and numerous guidelines for choosing between political and economic alternatives. May we choose wisely and encourage others in that pursuit.

Biblical Principles Behind Freedom and Flourishing

Throughout history, Christians, seeking to serve God and their neighbor, have helped to bring about flourishing in their families, communities, marketplaces, and nations. When a single Christian understands and exercises his or her God-given freedoms and creativity, it tends to lead to individual fulfillment. When many do so, it leads to a flourishing society.

Many people in Sub-Saharan Africa want to do the same thing. We need to find ways to help them.

Editor’s note: Learn more about the proven path to poverty alleviation in For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.

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