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[flagged] Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong (theguardian.com)
61 points by bogle 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments



Unfortunately, the author of this piece seems to suffer from the delusion that subsistence life is ideal.

He makes a valid point that our data about poverty prior to 1981 is lacking; however, he completely ignores more telling data, such as infant mortality rates correlated with infrastructure development.

Short version: life _is_ improving for the majority of people on the planet.

Recommended reading on the subject:

- _Factfulness_ by Hans Rosling, et al.

- The WHO's health trend data: http://www.searo.who.int/entity/health_situation_trends/en/


>He makes a valid point that our data about poverty prior to 1981 is lacking; however, he completely ignores more telling data, such as infant mortality rates correlated with infrastructure development

Which is not really relevant to whether poverty is decreasing or not. You can have some better tools or preventions decreasing infant mortality without getting people out of poverty otherwise.

You can also force people out of traditional livable rural non-commercial existence with 0 $/day and into hellish city poverty with few $/day, and it would look like an improvement in the books.


Life expectancy is a pretty good measure. The most important life expectancy raiser is not healthcare but access to food and clean water. Most deaths 100 years ago were caused by diseases which well fed people shrugs off. I'd argue that anyone who lacks food and clean water is poorer than even those who lives on the street in modern western nations.


The specific passage from the article where the author romanticizes subsistence economies:

> 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 way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.


This.

Most people in developed countries typically don’t know that in poor countries subsistence farmers are the poorest of them all, literally starving for months when their crops are done. Without trade or refrigeration you simply can’t subsist. On the other hand people don’t know that people in cities, even if they live in slums, are much better nourished than people in the country side, who are mostly subsistence farmers. In short, typically cities are rich and the country side is poor, as much as that may go against a romanticised view of older days.

Valid point may be that a dollar value may not be the best way to describe poverty. Nourishment, healthcare access and life expectancy are likely much better indicators.


Factfulness is available, for free, here: http://www.factfulness.science/

The late Dr. Rosling's website is fantastic and a good example of easy to use GUIs for data science. Play around with the data yourself here: https://www.gapminder.org/tools/#$state$time$value=2018;;&ch...

Try taking the quiz here to see if you are smarter than a chimp: http://factfulnessquiz.com/

I'd encourage everyone to read Factfulness. It's fairly quick to churn through and very enlightening. The world really is getting better.


The author discusses poverty, not health. We can argue that health is more achievable in modern world, but the picture of poverty isn't changed by that.


It absolutely is. If you are sick and dying, you're probably not taking any income. We should expect poverty to be directly corellated with health, and the data agrees. Poke around on gapminder and see for yourself.


> Poke around on gapminder

What do you mean?


He's talking about Gapminder: https://www.gapminder.org/

He's basically telling you to educate yourself ;-)


> It absolutely is. If you are sick and dying, you're probably not taking any income

That's the author's (main) point, i.e. that using money/income in order to compare today's capitalist world with the one that came before it is pointless, because money wasn't that much of a thing in a pre-capitalist world and you could live reasonably well (and healthy) without having any access to "income".


You couldn't really live reasonably well and healthy though. For the vast majority of human history about 40% of people died before reaching adulthood.


Not being paid wages doesn't mean not taking income. In an agricultural society, the produce of your farm, and profit from selling it is your income. You can't work the fields or go to market when you're bedridden with tuberculosis. Food didn't magically appear on people's plates ojt of thin air before capitalism.

Also, why are we pretending that precolonial society was exclusively barter driven and agricultural? Tradespeople go back to the dawn of time.


The first chart in Gates's tweet (which is what the article is all about) is based on the idea that all incomes are converted into money for comparison reasons, otherwise I have no idea how they managed to compare incomes going back 200 years from different types of societies. How do you assign income for shared grazing grounds? Or for shared forests? Or for rotating ownership of the agricultural fields? (btw, rotating ownership is an idea very alien to capitalism, if you propose it today you'll be treated as a communist). You basically can't do all that, because these things don't have a very easily computable money equivalent.

And, as such, comparing the rate of poverty in a capitalist society to the rate of poverty from a pre-capitalist society is bogus. Again, this is what the article is all about.

> you're bedridden with tuberculosis.

No, you can't, but your wife/uncle/cousin/aunt can until you get better. While living in a capitalist society mostly means an atomic family unit where, if you happen to be bed-ridden, you're basically on your own. Again, charts like the ones tweeted by Gates don't assign any monetary value to this type of close human relations, even though those close human relations greatly improve our well-being. Afaik nobody has assigned yet any money value to the ease of mind provided by thoughts like "hey, I'm not alone in this world, I'm not on my own".


> If you are sick and dying, you're probably not taking any income.

It's easier for me to imagine sick person doing some work for himself or his family than sick person doing many kinds of work for others in monetary economy. If you have society with little use of money, I think relationship between health and poverty is different than in modern capitalism.


What makes you think that day laboring in a field is any easier to do while sick than driving or serving or knowledge work?

How you are paid for your work is irrelevant when you are too sick to do it.

Also, why are we treating money like a colonial invention?


> What makes you think that day laboring in a field is any easier to do while sick than driving or serving or knowledge work?

The fact that doing work for yourself allows you to structure it to your needs. You may till the garden early in the morning or late at night, when you feel like it, you can make decision on the spot and you don't need to coordinate with others. Or you can switch to home-centered work which you postponed before.


Health is linked to poverty. So it makes sensr to use it as a metric.


Well the author is from an institution called the University of London, and Max Roser, who's stats he is critiquing, from an institution called Oxford...


Specifically Goldsmiths' College, University of London, and a fellow of the RSA.

https://www.gold.ac.uk/anthropology/staff/hickel-jason/


I agree with both — I think it's a false dichotomy to say "either it's getting worse or it's getting better".

1. Yes, so much is getting better.

2. There are new injustices, and also we'd be even better off if wealth were more evenly distributed.

On the one hand, as long as things continue to improve, that's good! On the other hand, things will only improve if we make them improve.


> Unfortunately, the author of this piece seems to suffer from the delusion that subsistence life is ideal.

That does not seem to be the argument.

The argument seems to be that money-based measures that might be valid for comparing poverty within fully capitalist, money-oriented societies are not sensible ways of comparing societies across a continuum from not-at-all money-oriented or capitalist to fully capitalist, money-oriented.


The simplest measures of past wealth do simply look at money. We know what unskilled building day-labor earner in Delhi in 1600, and converting this to calories of the staple diet gives a reasonable measure by which you can compare them to workers in (say) Amsterdam. Because both were paid in cash, and spent most of their income on food.

The countryside is more complicated, but people do work out similar things.


It's also really hard to find people in the population that do not have a cell phone or quick access to one.


This sounds like fantasy to me: "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." They still fought over resources and hunting grounds. They even had slaves. I don't understand how that is a robust system of sharing and reciprocity.


It's the 21st century and we are still propagating the noble savage stereotype.


Right!

Not to mention erasing the pre-colonial civilisations of half the world. Delhi is what, the 9th city on that site? The Guardian believes that none of those palace builders employed tax-collectors?


Also, none of the people promoting this regressive ideal are willing to be the first to give up current lifestyle either.


As if it was "refuted" conclusively (as opposed to merely replaced by the opposite myth of monotonic progress)


Indeed. Most societies across the planet were either also invading and conquering their neighbours or at the least systems in place that were analogous to those of colonists.

Mongolia, China, Japan, India and many other Asian nations had been in and out of well documented wars for millenia, and even "primitive" cultures such as the Yurok had a working currency and trade economy, and the Iroquois a now well-known federation of tribes with a strong governmental structure.


Yeah my parents are from one of those formerly poverty stricken places, and there was money, trade, and land ownership. So many people who are living today have experienced their lives improving rapidly within their memory, that it seems ridiculous to claim the opposite.


Your parents are from "prior to colonization"? That is unlikely. Regardless of original claim of before colonization, your parents might see end of it.


Sure, but "money, trade, and land ownership" were common in lots of places, long long before Europeans showed up. I mean we have Sumerian tax records!


I'm sure that the 40 years of European colonization 400 years ago most definitely taught my barbaric ancestors how to use silver and claim land.


Maybe a hunter-gatherer society that never found conflict could fit this stereotype, if they ever existed. But the moment people put down roots, others wanted their stuff.

The Aztecs were destroyed as a result of colonization, but Cortes couldn’t have killed them without getting a coalition of enemies of Montezuma on his side. And the reason a coalition could happen was that the Aztecs were merciless in their enslavement, taxation, and domination of other tribes and cities in their region.

Colonizers did horrible things but let’s not pretend that humanity was pristine and without malice before the Europeans arrived. Human nature does not change.


We still fight even now, even most developed countries have wars. And subsistence societies don't necessarily have slavery on a big scale.


>They still fought over resources and hunting grounds. They even had slaves.

Western powers fought (and still fight) over resources and zones of interest, so there's that.


And to whatever extent it was ever true, its erosion would be much more about the growth of population and the shrinking of the commons that results from that. Not some half-baked Marxist angle


It is probably worth noting that the author of this piece is also the author of a book about global inequality and his solutions to it [0].

While I haven't read his book, I recently completed Factfulness by Hans Rosling, which paints a more nuanced picture of how things are changing for people, and how small increases in wealth at the bottom can bring about life-changing differences.

Claiming that people lived in a situation where they didn't need money as the author does, is taking the view that there are no benefits of the modern world. It reminds me of the noble savages that previous generations praised.

I think the trend of bringing more people fresh water and access to healthcare is something to be celebrated. Trying to bundle this with the ills of modern society instead feels forced.

[0] The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions


> "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... Earning $2 per day doesn’t mean that you’re somehow suddenly free of extreme poverty"

If living on $3 per day is so bad, imagine how much worse it would be to live on less than $2 per day. That's the entire point being made by the optimists. The percentage of people living on less than $2 per day has shrunk by ~80%. You'd have to be willfully cynical to deny that being a good thing.

> "Over the four decades since 1981, not only has the number of people in poverty gone up..."

Of course the "number of people" has gone up. The world population has exploded. That's a completely unrelated topic, unless the author is advocating forced sterilizations.

> "... the proportion of people in poverty has remained stagnant at about 60%"

Any idea where he's getting this 60% number from? He has not given any citation whatsoever.


"About 60%" means 71.8% in 1990 and 58.1% in 2013.

https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2018/8/30/the-moral-egregio...


That is a significant amount of progress to make in 23 years. Hiding this data and calling the numbers "stagnant" is concerted misrepresentation on Hickel's part


The 60% mentioned in the posted article excludes China, the numbers in the link do not.


I wonder why it is so hard for so many people to accept that the world is better than it ever has been, and is still getting better. You see this from every side of the political spectrum. Is being super cynical just a bug in our nature?


Our planet is literally dying. We lost over 60% of land animals [1], insects are dying out as well [2], and life in the oceans isn't doing much better [3].

The temperatures keep rising at an accelerating rate. We're about to get a big methane burp once permafrost melts. That's gonna put 25 gigatons of a greenhouse gas that's 4x more powerful than C02 into the atmosphere. Currently there are about 4 gigatons of methane.

Complex life on this planet could literally go extinct in the near future. All of this is a direct result of human activity. Thinknig that life around the world is getting better, and everything is fine is the height of idiocy. We're facing an unimaginable climate catastrophe that's going to affect every single person in the world.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity...

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/10/15/hyperalarm...

[3] https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)...


right. I agree with most of what you said.

Altho all this is the result of human activity resulting from exponential increase in our population. And hence consumption.

It’s not capitalism. It is uncurtailed procreation. Altho’ one might suggest that there is some correlation between capitalism and decrease in crushing poverty(leading to higher survivability) ..which will result in our eventual demise of our species(and others).

The planet..however..will carry on.


It's both though. Growth is the core tent of capitalism, and it promotes consumerism that in turn requires consumers. This ethos is what's killing us. And just to contrast for you. I grew up in USSR, and the focus there was on sustainability. Products were built to last because it cost the state a lot of resources to produce them. There was no drive to make products for the sake of making them, or to introduce insane ideas like planned obsolescence. A lot less resources were devoted to frivolousness as well. So for all its faults it was actually a much better system in this regard.

It's also perfectly possible to aim for sustainability and to manage our population. Just look at how China managed to put a stop to its population growth. The problem is that the capitlist economic system is completely at odds with that because it requires constant growth.


I hear you and I don’t mean to be disrespectful in order to disagree...but it seems like USSR didn’t stand a chance. Sustainablity is different from a failed economy.

I grew up in India. One might say China and India’s population is more sustainable than USA because they consume less and yet 2.5 billion sustainable people consume a lot more than 350 million Americans. Life is certainly better in the USA. For me. I must hasten to add that because my needs are different from my kin and peers who prefer India.

My entire school years, I studied from Russian(USSR then) puzzle books and text books and went to the counsul to learn chess. I have very fond memories of what USSR was...from a distance. It was an economy of scarcity. It is not the same as an economy of sustainability. And yet, it failed. It did not create a better life for its citizens.

People leave communist countries for survival while Americans threaten to leave their capitalist paradise because they are embarrassed by their first term President. The priorities are very stark.

China forced the one child policy upon its citizens. Not by granting incentives but punitively. I am not sure that I can be on board with that...I think population control should still have the element of ‘free choice’. People must choose to have smaller families because it benefits them first.

Capitalism will certainly have to change its flavor now especially with automation., but it has done a great job building a foundation. We are already fast approaching a world where there will be more people than jobs. It is going to be possible to survive and even thrive without a work force. But not with 10 billion predicted for 2050 because there is certainly a tipping point to this planet and fixed resources.

I sometimes feel like we should step away from limiting labels like communism and socialism and capitalism. I think those times are long gone..what we need now is a new structure. A sustainable structure based on all that we learnt from capitalism AND communism. Everything is going to change now ..not just with automation but also with climate change.

Capitalism can and will morph. I doubt if communism can..it’s just too rigid because it’s a philosophy of conformity for all while capitalism is a philosophy of freedom for the majority.(not all)

I won’t pretend to know a lot about this...I know plants and animals more than political systems. What do you think of the above and can you convince me to change my position?


>but it seems like USSR didn’t stand a chance

I don't really see how that follows. The primary cause of USSR collapse was NATO, which chipped away at it on every front until the collapse. However, it looks like USA isn't really going to outlast USSR by a big margin. Having lived through the collapse I see many of the same signs, and I think the US is much worse prepared to deal with it than USSR due to lack of public infrastructure and services.

>It did not create a better life for its citizens.

It certainly did for me, and what's more USSR created decent life for most citizens without exploitation. Everybody had access to housing, food, medicine, and education. There was no concept of homelessness for example. I have very fond memories of living in USSR.

>People leave communist countries for survival while Americans threaten to leave their capitalist paradise because they are embarrassed by their first term President. The priorities are very stark.

With all due respect, I don't think you have any idea of what you're talking about here. Having actually lived in the soviet union, I can tell you that the quality of life was very high for great many people. We had more free time, better education, and the basic needs taken care of.

In the capitalist system, you have a large pool of people who are struggling to survive and have no access to things like basic medicine. People die all the time from preventable causes in the USA. People die because they can't get things like insulin that cost nothing to make. Then you have places like Flint where people don't even have drinking water.

It's also important to note that slave labor plays a very big role in the capitalist system where large portion of the population produces goods for the middle class to consume in horrible conditions.

This is reflected in the prison labor system in the states, as well as what's effectively indentured servitude of many workers in third world countries who have to work insane hours in horrific conditions to produce the goods consumed in US.

>I think population control should still have the element of ‘free choice’.

I don't agree when the risk of 'free choice' is the whole species going extinct.

>Capitalism will certainly have to change its flavor now especially with automation., but it has done a great job building a foundation. We are already fast approaching a world where there will be more people than jobs.

That doesn't make sense. The more jobs are automated the less people are able to do meaningful work. The insane premise of capitalism is that everybody has to work to live. Automation is completely at odds with capitalism. Nowadays it's not just automation of manual labor either, machine learning is quickly encroaching on many jobs in fields like medicine, law, and journalism. The amount of jobs that people can do better than machines is rapidly shrinking.

>I sometimes feel like we should step away from limiting labels like communism and socialism and capitalism. I think those times are long gone..what we need now is a new structure. A sustainable structure based on all that we learnt from capitalism AND communism. Everything is going to change now ..not just with automation but also with climate change.

I think the new system has to be much closer to communism than to capitalism. We need something that's sustainable and not rooted in materialism if we are to survive as a species.

>Capitalism can and will morph. I doubt if communism can..it’s just too rigid because it’s a philosophy of conformity for all while capitalism is a philosophy of freedom for the majority.(not all)

Not really sure what you mean there to be honest. I think you might be conflating communism and totalitarianism which are orthogonal concepts.

So, to sum up I'm not really convinced by the argument. I think that capitalism is fundamentally at odds with long term survival of humanity as a species.


Thanks for your response and you have said a great many things..I have numbered them for my ease.. I hope that’s ok.

1. Y: I don't really see how that follows. The primary cause of USSR collapse was NATO, which chipped away at it on every front until the collapse. However, it looks like USA isn't really going to outlast USSR by a big margin. Having lived through the collapse I see many of the same signs, and I think the US is much worse prepared to deal with it than USSR due to lack of public infrastructure and services. JF: we do have public infrastructure and services in the USA and perhaps you are right, but I have a harder time imagining a collapse like the one in Soviet Russia.

I remember the narrative behind USSR collapsing differently. I still remember the day I read it in the newspaper and I was in high school. We had 30 minutes of discussing the day’s news and I still believe what I believed then..Gorbachev introduced perestroika to a people and nation that wasn’t ready for it. Russia was already weakened and destabilized and it was too much. You cannot blame NATO without looking at the internal mechanics and the role Gorbachev played.

2. Y: It certainly did for me, and what's more USSR created decent life for most citizens without exploitation. Everybody had access to housing, food, medicine, and education. There was no concept of homelessness for example. I have very fond memories of living in USSR.

JF: Yes, I have heard this over many many times. My close friend is from Georgia and she is here now. I want to beckon the concept of survivability. When any system is so weak that it cannot recover from a severe blow, it means that it is not the optimal for survival. Which automatically(to me) makes the good times ephemeral.

Colder countries generally have a lesser degree of homelessness than those in warmer tropical climes because it is certain death to be homeless in winter.

I do believe that it comes down to personal notions of what freedom means to individuals. The men and women lined the streets and wept when Stalin and also Mao died. They ran regimes. Not governments. They were responsible for some brutal inflictions upon their own people and yet, like how a child cries when an abusive parent dies..they felt bereft and lost. There was suppression of thought and an iron hand on how people were expected to think and act..they were free within the spheres of state control and it is freedom nevertheless, but outside was a world with a feral freedom as befits the human spirit.

3. Y: With all due respect, I don't think you have any idea of what you're talking about here. Having actually lived in the soviet union, I can tell you that the quality of life was very high for great many people. We had more free time, better education, and the basic needs taken care of.

JF: you might be right. I can only speak from my perspective.

5. Y: In the capitalist system, you have a large pool of people who are struggling to survive and have no access to things like basic medicine. People die all the time from preventable causes in the USA. People die because they can't get things like insulin that cost nothing to make. Then you have places like Flint where people don't even have drinking water.

JF: that is only one side of the United States. There are many facets of a capitalist society.

There will always be people working for others. There will always be some who are richer than others..smarter than others..more wily than others..more able than others. The game of life ...as I see it..is evaluating the cards you hold and play them well for the best possible outcome for oneself.

6. Y: It's also important to note that slave labor plays a very big role in the capitalist system where large portion of the population produces goods for the middle class to consume in horrible conditions.

JF: one of my replies got flagged because I objected to the use of the term ‘slave labour’. That is not slavery.

When I spot that word, I step away from any discussion. Because it’s connatations are horrific and is not really suitable to be borrowed to fit unrelated arguments.

I find that I am at a loss of words when I am confronted with such black and white perspectives of capitalism.

7. Y: This is reflected in the prison labor system in the states, as well as what's effectively indentured servitude of many workers in third world countries who have to work insane hours in horrific conditions to produce the goods consumed in US.

JF: I am departing from this discussion. I disagree with you on majority of the points. But I respect your right to pursue your deeply held convictions. Have a good day.


>I remember the narrative behind USSR collapsing differently.

That's the difference though, you remember a narrative while I remember actually living in USSR, and living through the collapse as a personal experience.

>When any system is so weak that it cannot recover from a severe blow, it means that it is not the optimal for survival. Which automatically(to me) makes the good times ephemeral.

This is the case for literally every single system of government we've had. Every empire that ever existed has collapsed. Entropy is literally a law of thermodynamics.

>Colder countries generally have a lesser degree of homelessness than those in warmer tropical climes because it is certain death to be homeless in winter.

There is plenty of homelessness in US and Canada, and there is no mandate to prevent that under capitalism. Soviet Union actually saw things like shelter and food as human rights.

>The men and women lined the streets and wept when Stalin and also Mao died. They ran regimes. Not governments.

You're once again confusing communism with totalitarianism.

>There will always be people working for others. There will always be some who are richer than others..smarter than others..more wily than others..more able than others. The game of life ...as I see it..is evaluating the cards you hold and play them well for the best possible outcome for oneself.

The point was that you have a double standard for communism and capitalism. You're saying there were poor people in USSR and that's what made communism bad, but people suffering under capitalism are themselves at fault. The reality is that capitalism creates a system of exploitation, and if you happen to be a member of the exploited class, there's no easy way out.

> one of my replies got flagged because I objected to the use of the term ‘slave labour’. That is not slavery.

It's slavery in anything but name. If you object to the term, then please justify what you're basing this assertion on. When you chain up children in factories to make things like clothing, that's slavery plain and simple. If you're not comfortable discussing capitalism factually, then I don't know what else to say here.

Have a good day.


People that are 20-30 years old right now have always lived in a world where everyone told them that everything (food, economy, climate, pensions, planet, the middle east, ...) is going to shit and is getting worse and worse, even though this is patently not the case. (Just one example: when you have all these articles about how BAD food today is, consider that today you get clean + nutritious foods for very little money; malnutrition is actually hard to do! I can go out right now in winter and buy vegetables and fruits that prior generations simply did not have at all at this time of year -- but clearly everything's worse now!).

This is pretty much the original form of clickbait.


Wild expectations driven by a culture of greed. People just want more and more and when they can't get it, everything is terrible. A life of comfort has basically incubated generations of immature childish people that have lost sight of what is really needed in life. I have personally talked to people that are well off but are stressed out because they can't afford to keep paying for an additional property they have. They get so caught up in maintaining what they have and getting more. This is particularly dramatic to me because all I want is a secure place to work and study. I feel very out of touch for not wanting all these things that people around me seem to fight tooth and nail for.


Yes, having wealth and not fretting about it — and finding truly important things to focus on — is a skill too!


The opinion piece was pointing out the flaws in the infographic's depiction of poverty, not any other metric. The poverty graph was clearly flawed as it made assumptions about most of the timeline. Recasting the data from 1981 failed to account for China, another point clearly made in the article.


Easier access to data + negative bias[0] = people thinking the world is a shit show (don't get me wrong it probably is in a lot places).

That's what happens when you're blasted 24/7 with news about kidnappings / rapes / killings / terrorist attacks / natural disasters happening in far away places and which have 0 impact on your daily life & community.

[0] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brain...


The only case I can see is that as material suffering has decreased, psychological suffering has (possibly) increased.

I know many people who make a lot of money, have abundant food, access to shelter, medicine, education, entertainment. And their self-reported emotional and psychological experience of life is hellish misery.

I’m not disputing that by many metrics the world is much better now. But it does seem that we apply a certain set of assumptions about the subjective importance of some types of suffering vs others. Sometimes that’s justified, sometimes we are noseblind to how modern society foments a hellish introspective existence.


Seriously, it boggles the mind. Right now is the best time to be alive and it's not even remotely close. 20 years from now it will likely be even better.

I mean, like 20 years ago HIV was still a death sentence. Now we have physicians saying they'd rather have HIV than diabetes. Just think about that!


Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt are what get clicks. Optimism doesn't spread virally.


Personal anecdote here. Socialists seem to reject the idea that capitalism has brought more general prosperity to the world more often than not when speaking in terms of life longevity and food availability. Its as if they don't want to admit the upsides of capitalism at the cost of rationality. I personally haven't seen this from the far right as I have the far left.


That's complete and utter nonsense. Capitalism works on slave labor plain and simple. The reason everything is made in third world countries is because they have no worker protections. Your clothing is made by some kids in Pakistan, your phone parts are made by suicidal workers at Foxconn, and so on. This is slavery in anything but name. Any countries that don't want to play in this system are systematically destroyed by US interventions. Just look at the history of South America as an example. It's a continuous stream of brutal coups and dictatorships instigated by CIA. Even domestically US now has a huge prison labor force that's become its own economy. You likely never experienced any of this personally, and never really wondered about the human cost of your lifestyle.

A rational person would understand that a system where 1% of the population owns 99% of the wealth is not working for the common people around the world.


The article claims that a large number of people formerly lived cashless lives, but now live a lower-quality life that depends on cash. This claim doesn't have a lot of data for it, but is maybe believable. A data-driven discussion of quality of life, regardless of cash income, would clear this up. Looks like other commenters are dispelling the notion pretty quickly.

Regarding cash income though, I feel that this article disrespects the actual data by cherry-picking. For a less sensationalized presentation of it, I recommend reading about the elephant curve. Most of the world's poor are doing much better in terms of cash income than they used to be.

https://www.brookings.edu/research/whats-happening-to-the-wo...


I think it's well beyond "disrespects the actual data", more into science denial territory.

We have had decent data about this for a long time. It's a lot easier to gather than climate data, on which the same people will profess great certainty. But it doesn't fit everyone's preferred view of things.


Classic "noble savage" / "everything was better in the past" article. Why is this on HN?


On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.[0]

0 - https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


It makes a good discussion piece, and while far from perfect, it does bring some interesting data to the table (such as the stagnation in poverty decline if you exclude China).


I think the article posited that the graphic was based on incomplete data and failed to show the effect of China's policies. He wasn't trying to make a case for it being all roses before 1981, he was trying to demonstrate that the Davos neo-liberals couldn't claim to be right.

Perhaps it's suitable for HN because it raises the question of good data analysis versus making up numbers that amount to false news.


Note that the author uses absolute numbers rather than relative numbers, nor does he give the value of the increase. Hint: the increase is measured in millions rather than billions.

The relative numbers are 71.8% in 1990 vs 58.1% in 2013

https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2018/8/30/the-moral-egregio...


That is a really interesting article, thanks. Through asking good questions about the relationships between the relative and absolute numbers it casts an uncomfortable spotlight onto our current responses to inequality.


the perspective that i think is missing from the article is that a lot of the drop in extreme poverty isn't the result of organized work by the world to curb misery. it's a result of the chinese economic boom which created the world's biggest middle class while also nearly erasing extreme poverty in the world's biggest country.

a lot of the numbers we see regarding "world poverty" are misleading because of how impressive china has been able to do over the last 20 years. "world poverty reduction" data sans china looks much worse than any of us would like.

i'm parroting these thoughts from a talk that i attended by the former secretary of the UN, ban ki-moon. he said the world had failed to reduce poverty, but that china had succeeded, giving the rest of the world a chance to feel good when it hadn't done much.

now, directly to the article's point: yeah, forced participation as a laborer in the neoliberal world economy could be considered coercive and detrimental. but subsistence living is very far from desirable for many reasons. i don't think this is an argument we can really have in good faith -- there's no putting globalization back in the box at this point, so we need to make the best of it for the people who are doing the worst.


Indeed "organized work by the world" has little to do with it. The aid industry may sometimes do good in a crisis, but has nothing to do with the overall trajectory.

But while China is the poster-child for this (in the last 30 years), it's not just China. The life of many people in many smaller countries has been meaningfully improved.


And the effort in China was definitely deliberate.

Maybe not having world wars for 70 years has helped — Steven Pinker's renaming of the Cold War to the Long Peace resonates!


> the perspective that i think is missing from the article is that a lot of the drop in extreme poverty isn't the result of organized work by the world to curb misery

He did indeed make that point by calling out the flatlining in poverty reduction if you removed China from the data.


I'm still waiting to find someone who uses the word neoliberal as a slur and who hasn't benefited enormously from it.

It could be a while.


Or even accidentally turns it into a username. Honestly, it wasn't political when I picked it.


Hah, yes. I noticed your username just after I submitted my comment.

(Although, of course, left and liberal are by no means synonyms.)


My first reaction was that such irresponsible writing shouldn't be allowed here. But it's a good reminder how an expert with a narrative to fit is much worse than someone misinformed with good intentions.


The data in the graphic was misleading. Given the data corrected for China from 1981 it shows a flat line. I'm sure that is a useful takeaway, even if the politics isn't to your tastes.


Subsistence farming societies today: poor

Subsistence farming societies before: not poor!

Anybody who looks can see that poverty has increased!


100 years ago the richest man in the world could die from a simple infection because there were no such thing as antibiotics.

People take for granted so many things we have in the modern world, they want some form of utopia right now. Perfect is the enemy of good


And now the poorest man in the world will die from the same infection because he can't afford the antibiotics, or has no access to a doctor who can prescribe them to him. What's the difference between something existing but being impossibly expensive vs not existing at all, except for the ultra rich?


>What's the difference between something existing but being impossibly expensive vs not existing at all, except for the ultra rich?

Are you arguing that access to healthcare for the global poor isn't the best it has ever been and hasn't been getting better every year? Because we know that's the case.


When you say ultra rich, you really mean not third world country poor.


One thing that Factfulness does is take a more nuanced look at wealth. Rosling makes 4 categories of prosperity — the majority of which by population are in the middle, neither ultra-rich nor ultra-poor.

Something he wrote that helped me understand: From the point of view of the wealthiest societies, everyone else looks poor. But there's a huge difference — in quality of life — between subsistence-poor and bike-to-the-market poor. In the second category, your children are probably going to finish high school and have a chance at professional careers. In the first category you're one injury or bad harvest away from disaster.


That's true for penicillin, but what about more exotic medical procedures? "Socialized" medicine is railed against for "rationing" but all markets have rationing as well. The whole point of a market is to ration resources to those most willing and able to pay.

But yes. In general the line that matters is "Can I afford it?". If it doesn't exist, the answer is no for everbody. If it does exist, and has a price tag on it, the answer is no for some people and yes for others. The "no"s in the latter situation are pretty much in the same situation as they were before the good existed.


Except all stats on infant mortality, life expectancy, etc show that's not true.

US and Europe have dumped over a trillion dollars in foreign aid to africa alone, 9x more than the Marshall plan post WWII.


10 years from now the richest man in the world could die from a simple infection because there will be no such thing as antibiotics. A possible future with some basis in our current situation.

As the financial world has it, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It would be foolish to take for granted anything we have now which is why we should keep watching where things are possibly going, evaluate the risks, and take action to correct where we may be going wrong.


Why do people listen to Bill Gates? He had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time and he cut a deal that has become the sine qua non of bad deals (for IBM).

Then he went on to produce the worst OS in history, held together by gum and bits of string. It was only successful initially because there was no other viable choice. Its later success was fuelled by inertia and predatory trade practices.

Windows created enormous suffering for an unprecedentedly large number of people because of poor design choices. Anyone trying to use a computer had to spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to fix that computer.

All of which resulted in a guy with billions but no particular insight into reality. If you want Bill Gates-level ideas, ask any other old family member around the table at Thanksgiving.

Getting lucky in business and having a lot of money doesn’t qualify you to run the world, and it doesn’t confer insight or wisdom.


Bill Gates is more well-informed than most people about the conditions of extreme poverty because he is actively attempting to fix it and is in charge of one of the largest charitable organizations ever assembled for this purpose.




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