The End of Doom

Secret? Global Poverty Has Been Falling—The End of Doom

New York Times columnist reveals today the "secret" that my new book documents.



Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has a good op-ed today, "The Most Important Thing, And It's Almost a Secret" in which he documents the "secret" that global poverty rates have been falling steeply in recent decades. Kristof cites a poll that found that the majority of Americans believed that global poverty rate has doubled in the past 20 years. Most of the remaining respondents more optimistically believed that global poverty has remained steady.

So Kristof argues that the "most important thing" that journalists never seem to report is the fact that the lot of poor folks in many developing countries has been steadily improving. I will not forbear to point out that these Americans would not have been so mistaken about the trajectory of global poverty if they had read my new book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-First Century.* More on that in bit, but let's first savor the good news Kristof reports:

• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who's counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do. …

The world's best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating.

Kristof cites data showing that poverty reduction leads to women choosing to have fewer children, thus abating "overpopulation" fears still peddled by some doomsters. He then references the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as supposedly showing the way forward and concludes by urging: 

So let's get down to work and, on our watch, defeat extreme poverty worldwide. We know that the challenges are surmountable — because we've already turned the tide of history.

Indeed, but not because of U.N. has set out some elaborate economic development goals. Kristof and most other commentators miss the crucial fact we have reached the "inflection point" where poverty has been receding at the same time that economic freedom has been rising around the globe. As the Fraser Institute's 2015 Economic Freedom of the World Report notes the…

…economic freedom rating for the 102 countries with continuous ratings since 1980 has increased from 5.31 in 1980 to 5.77 in 1990 before jumping to 6.74 in 2000 and finally to 6.86 in 2013. The global average increased slightly this past year.

It is no coincidence that poverty falls when human ingenuity is unleashed in voluntary markets. With regard to global population trends I report in The End of Doom:

In 2002, Seth Norton, an economics professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, published a remarkably interesting study, "Population Growth, Economic Freedom, and the Rule of Law," on the inverse relationship between prosperity and fertility. Norton compared the fertility rates of over a hundred countries with their index rankings for economic free- dom and another index for the rule of law. "Fertility rate is highest for those countries that have little economic freedom and little respect for the rule of law," wrote Norton. "The relationship is a powerful one. Fertility rates are more than twice as high in countries with low levels of economic freedom and the rule of law compared to countries with high levels of those measures."

St. Martin's

Norton found that the fertility rate in countries that ranked low on economic freedom averaged 4.27 children per woman, while countries with high economic freedom rankings had an average fertility rate of 1.82 children per woman. His results for the rule of law were similar: fertility rates in countries with low respect for the rule of law averaged 4.16, whereas countries with high respect for the rule of law had fertility rates averaging 1.55.

Economic freedom and the rule of law occur in politically and eco- nomically stable countries and produce prosperity, which dramatically increases average life expectancy and lowers child mortality; this in turn reduces the incentive to bear more children. As data from the Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom shows, average life expectancy for free countries is over eighty years, whereas it's just about sixty-three years in repressed countries.

With regard to the efficacy of U.N. goal-setting, I note: 

There is only one proven way to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of poor people, and that is democratic capitalism. It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women's rights respected. Whatever slows down economic growth also slows down environmental improvement. By vastly increasing knowledge and pursuing technological progress, past generations met their needs and vastly increased the ability of our generation to meet our needs. We should do no less for future generations. …

What well-meaning activists and UN bureaucrats are trying to do is centrally plan the world's ecology. History suggests that that would work out about as well for humanity and the natural world as centrally planned economies did.

*Did I mention that I have a new book for sale?

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  1. Of course poverty is falling. It’s how income inequality became the new cause de jour.

    1. That’s exactly what I was going to say.

      Same thing with hunger. Now it’s “food insecurity.”

      1. Between food network and facebook and people on instagram showing off their perfectly plated delicacies how can anyone help but feel insecure about their food?

        1. *ponders for a moment….applauds*

          1. You’re growing soft

            *partially narrows gaze*

            1. I protest! In fact, I am gaining converts!

  2. OT: Ridiculous fact I just learned. Alex Skarlatos was supposed to attend Umpqua Community College yesterday, but wasn’t there because he’s on Dancing With The Stars after helping to disarm the Islamist gunman on the French train last month.

    1. He’s more deserving of fame and adulating than most entertainers or celebutards. Would any of them ever risk their lives to save strangers? Not bloody likely.

      1. Bindi Irwin’s spectacular breasts are my heroes.

        1. Dude, she’s only 17…

          1. Just 17? We know what you mean.

            1. The way she looked was way beyond compare.

              1. So he’ll never dance with another girl.

          2. Legal in most states!

            1. Perhaps. It’s just that at my advanced age that seems so, so young. Plus I continue to see her as that little girl on her father’s show.

            2. 16 is the federal statute in Australialand, so… play ball?

              1. She’s just 16 years old. Leave her alone…they said..

                1. Son, can’t you see that she’s just a little girl?

          3. Get ’em before gravity does!

        2. Terri Irwin (Bindi’s mom) is from Eugene, 60 miles north of Roseburg.

      2. But it’s very irresponsible for ordinary citizens to risk their lives to save strangers. They should instead do what the pussies passengers on the Washington Metro did when Jasper Spires stabbed Kevin Sutherland to death: wait for the Police to arrive and save their asses.

  3. of course, it’s a secret and there are numerous interests vested in keeping it that way. Lots of wampum in Big Poverty.

    Put differently – no group lined up against a cause has any desire to see that cause eliminated as a problem. Because if that happened, a lot of payola would be lost. One of my wife’s professors in grad school had suggested that if people were interested in research and a potentially never-ending stream of funding dollars, “find a cause.”

  4. and vastly increased the ability of our generation to meet our needs. We should do no less for future generations. …

    Now cut that shit out! You’re just giving them ideas.

  5. Maybe Global Warming is bringing down poverty rates? It’s to blame for everything else out there.

    1. I blame Bush

      1. And fewer alien abductions.

  6. Jay Texas 23 hours ago
    Wow, there’s a greater child poverty rate in Texas (16%) than for the world. Guess that’s part of the Texas miracle we never hear about.


    1. I love idiocy like that because TX-style poverty (US-style for that matter) with its housing, indoor plumbing, cheap electricity, all modern household conveniences, flat screens, cell phones, and often, cars, is just like its grinding 3rd world cousin.

      1. This doesn’t even touch the free public (k-12) and subsidized higher education, or free childhood immunizations – most counties in the USA provide them for free at public facilities.

        Just having access to immunizations and education improves outcomes tremendously.

      2. Poverty is bigger in Texas!

    2. There’s something about Texas…. I can’t quite put my finger on it….

      It’s…… near… a poor country? And those people….. move? to Texas????

      1. That can’t be it, dummy. Immigrants only make the country better.

      2. That’s not even the issue. The issue is that the global poverty line is $1.25 a day. So if you’re making minimum wage, you make 50 times the global poverty line.

        No one lives below the global poverty line in America. If you panhandle you’re making 30 times the global poverty line. This argument is based on someone being a moron and not knowing that the US poverty line is unique to the US and has nothing to do with the much lower global poverty line.

  7. Kanasanji California 23 hours ago
    You sound exactly like George Will – in his recent rant against the Pope. Not
    taking into account inflation (as pointed out by many on this thread) you are
    spouting bogus statistics


    1. This person clearly doesn’t understand that they’ve actually adjusted the global poverty line for inflation.

  8. Vera McHale Cincinnati, Ohio 23 hours ago
    In surveying Americans about poverty do you stipulate that you are talking about world poverty or US poverty? You have to realize that we have food banks here for the poor akin to the food lines of the Great Depression. There are so many groups trying to feed our poor and if you din’t have enough food that IS poverty. Maybe defining what you think is acceptable is evidently where you get your viewpoint. It is easy to keep your life on the better side of the track and miss the reality of American life for the masses. Do you have a nice warm coat for winter or you live where it never gets that cold? Is you sleeping area warm or cool enough. Try working in the public schools and witness the poverty. Try looking at the working class’ paycheck for payroll deductions and tell me again there is no problem.


    1. Meanwhile, 40% of food in the US winds up in landfills. I seldom waste or throw away food because I have to pay for it. People who get food for free aren’t so frugal.

    2. She seems angry about something, but I’m having a hard time figuring out what that is. The food banks?

      1. The public school system left her illiterate?

      2. I thought she was mad about taxes:

        Try looking at the working class’ paycheck for payroll deductions and tell me again there is no problem.

        And they say there are no libertarian women.

      3. Prolly the Food Banksters.

        1. Food Banksters

          Very nice.

          1. Woohoo! LTC made my day!

            1. I want to get a T-Shirt made that simply says “Food Bankster” and wear it when I do my warehouse shifts at the local food bank. I wonder if anyone would get it?

        2. Too fat to fail

  9. Daydreamer Philly 23 hours ago
    Is that really good news – that the number of people who earn a buck twenty five a day has decreased 50%? What are those people making now? $2.50 a day? Fine, we’ve moved a bunch of people out of the quicksand and into a mud puddle, but that work was probably done by organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation – they actually save lives. Governments are far from pulling their share. I agree it can be done, but I dislike the notion that substantial progress has been made. This world is still horrifically out of balance and it’s because of how we value just about everything, but most especially, free market capitalism. There are other demons, of course – religious oppression, superstitions and myths, power hungry despots and so on – but what we can recognize here in America is that we over-value the wrong things, and under-value the right things. Start there.


    1. Daydreamer Philly -“but most especially, free market capitalism. There are other demons, of course”

      Fuck off slaver! Remember, douchebags like this get to vote you into slavery.

      1. douchebags like this get to vote you into slavery.

        They’re voting themselves into slavery too–but just too dumb to realize it.

        1. Oh, I think they don’t care – 3 hots and a cot and sweet freedom from making choices or responsibility!

          1. You’re giving them too much credit. Their Progressive ideology eventually bites them in the ass–and they have the audacity to act surprised and shocked when they’re held to the same standard they impose on everyone else.

    2. The literal demonizing of religious oppression, superstition, and myth is a nice touch.

  10. So, Ron, is there any truth to the rumor that you have a book out?

    1. Pffft! Reason contributors/editors don’t have time to write books!

  11. Rachel S. Boston MA 23 hours ago
    Starvation does NOT happen because women in Haiti or Bangladesh have too many children. It happens because of maldistribution of resources. One child born in the US will use the same amount of resources as 13 – 53 children born in a developing country ( article/american-consumption-habits/). Also, 30-40% of the food supply in the US goes to waste ( food_waste_the_facts) – an amount of food that could feed an enormous amount of those babies being born in the countries you named. Let’s not blame the victims (e.g. women having children in other countries, many of whom are also denied access to birth control or safe abortions) of poverty and inequality – let’s shift the blame to the resource hoarding and privatization by wealthy corporations that is actually causing the starvation around the world.


    And that’s enough for me.

    1. Wow. I mean… wow.

      1. Yeah, she actually said “hoarding.”

        And I’m having trouble finding the Scientific American article. The link she used didn’t work and a search for “consumption habits” on the SA website found an article which is offline for unexplained reasons.

        1. Here’s a NRDC article on the subject:

          The methodology has a very broad definition of “waste”.

        2. I had to put a space in her links to get them below the 50 character limit. Sorry, I should have noted that.

        3. Yeah, she actually said “hoarding.”

          Yeah. It’s not like they use that capital to produce goods at a lower cost. It’s just money that they swim in every now and then.

        4. She put an unnecessary space before the word ‘article.’

          Also, the article isn’t even about wasting resources, it’s about impact on the environment.

    2. Filling in for LH because he’s feeling ill, I see.

      Brave, Warty.

    3. wait a minute. People having children they cannot feed are now victims? That one may be a candidate for peak derp.

      1. Women are always victims, wareagle.

    4. Take care, Warty. He who sets out to fight Derp should see to it that he does not also become Derp. For when you stare long into the Derp, the Derp also stares back into you.

      1. The Derp can’t get both eyes to look in the same direction, so you still have a slight advantage.

    5. Damn maldistribution!!! When will we ever learn???

    6. All that coming from a young lady living in Boston, one of the highest COL cities in America. What you wanna bet she goes to Harvard or Wellesley?

    7. What’s so funny is that you’d think these people would be thrilled that poverty is decreasing. Instead, they’re incredibly angry that there aren’t more poor people in the world.

      It’s like the guys on Steve Wilkos* who are upset when the lie detector says their girlfriend didn’t cheat on them.

      *I telework a lot. Don’t judge me!!

    8. “maldistribution of resources”

      And here all this time I’ve been striving to create resources at my computer and in my garden. How many of you knew all this time that they were actually distributed after falling like manna from heaven?

  12. I don’t see how decreasing fertility rates are a good in and of themselves. Wouldn’t fewer people lead to less division of labor? People can do whatever they want obviously, but this idea always comes off as Malthusian BS to me.

    1. For one thing, it’s an indicator of wealth. Poor people breed a lot, rich people can afford not to.

      1. In some cases it can be an indicator of improving health. If more children survive childhood, over a couple of generations people have less children because they are confident more will survive into adulthood.

        1. Yep – this, too

        2. Yeah, like you don’t really see the old practice of naming all the boys George because their father George wants to make sure someone survives to pass on his name. Except for George Foreman, obviously.

          1. George had a few grills, too.

            1. I object to calling that a “grill”.

            2. George had a few grills, too.

              Nicely done. I’m surprised Swiss missed it.

              1. Oh, I saw it alright…but it was worth letting slide….this time.

          2. Or in the case of dr Seuss characters, Dave.

    2. DLotwc: Wealth, education, and tech enables people to choose the number of kids that they have. That’s a good thing.

      1. Yes, the ability to choose is a good thing. Which choice people make OTOH is neither good nor bad. If people were getting out of poverty and choosing to have the same number(or even more) kids, that would be exactly as good as the current situation.

        1. Which choice people make OTOH is neither good nor bad.

          People make bad choices all the time, Dark.

          1. Yes, but I’m talking about preferences. Like if more people decided to drink coke instead of Pepsi.*

            *Not the best example as Coke is obviously superior.

            1. Your tongue is obviously broken.

    3. That’s why you build robots to do the work that poor laborers used to.

      1. You build robots to increase productivity and add to the division of labor. But no matter how many robots you build, more workers would still add to the division of labor and make everyone more wealthy.

    4. One man’s Malthusian is the next man’s Darwinian.

      I love hearing old ivory-tower types with no kids explain how intellect has conquered evolution.

    5. Wouldn’t fewer people lead to less division of labor?

      That’s a desirable feature of egalitarianism and the various sub-species of socialism that fetishize trading off roles and occupations to prevent a case of the hierarchical nasties (like valuing an internist more than a florist) from catching.

  13. Poor people breed a lot, rich people can afford are smart enough not to.

    That’s more accurate…

    1. But I’m not smart enough to reply to the correct message. Damn!

  14. So, is this good news the result of more socialist anti-poverty programs around the world? That’s the only solution the anti-poverty types in the US ever recommend, so that must be what’s working elsewhere, right?

    OT: Oxford University Student Union bans free speech magazine because it is ‘offensive’

    1. Is it offense or offence? Fucking Brits, they also left out a bunch of zs. Sorry, zeds.

    2. I’m surprised they’re not shutting it down outright.

  15. OK, so now that we know that global poverty rates are falling, but the question remains: what can we do to stop this? Or, at the very least, credit this to some other force besides free markets?

    1. Great minds think alike!

  16. So-called “social justice” causes never, ever, ever, ever reach their so-called “goal”. There’s always some new nitpicky thing to bitch about. Never mind that 50 years ago it would have been close to impossible for me to work in a technical field, and today, if I have the skills, I can pretty much write my own ticket. Nope. Now there’s that slight difference in pay between me and my colleagues (some of my male colleagues get paid less than I do, too), or not enough maternity leave, or no lactation facilities provided.

    There will always be something. The goal will never be reached.

    1. take the next step – if the goal was reached, what would all the agitators do the next day? There is no incentive to reach the goal, and this applies to any cause and any army of do-gooders and head-patters.

      1. That’s what I was getting at. Their stated goals aren’t attainable. There’s always something.

        1. Striving for unattainable goals is what makes a person better, duh.

    2. They don’t want to achieve any goals because actually solving real issues would make them jobless.

      1. That’s the thing – the issues these people seem to care about have largely been solved. It’s just that goalposts keep moving, and the SJWs keep getting more & more precious with what they want. See my example of being a woman (self-supporting, property-owning) in a technical field. I am living the life of a privileged white male. What more is there? The SJWs can’t be satisfied.

        1. I am living the life of a privileged white male.

          You’re living a lot better than this white male. Good for you.

        2. But you’ve internalized the misogyny that defines Western culture. Just because you’ve made out alright doesn’t mean other women can or will. If nothing else, you’re proof that male privilege exists in full force, because you should be doing even better for all the effort you’ve made. You’re still suffering under the oppression of white men.

          1. See? You’ve summed it up perfectly. The goal is not equality – it’s lordship!!

            1. You know good social science because it’s the opposite of actual science. Sure, it may share some of the numeracy of hard science, but social science rests on the untestability and unfalsifiability of its central premises.

              1. Call it numermancy if you will.

            2. “he goal is not equality – it’s lordship!!”

              Goddamn this.

  17. It is no coincidence that global poverty commenced its steep decline in the 1990s. However, it’s difficult to tell whether this world-historical accomplishment was due to recognition of the failure of socialism to deliver the goods or the beneficial effects of global warming. In any case, misanthropic socialists and Gaia worshippers alike demand return to status quo ex ante.

    1. It’s really not necessary to separate those groups.

  18. Did I mention that I have a new book for sale?

    For SALE!? Ron, Reason has been giving away your new book for free to assholes like me!

    1. Have you gotten over your indignation at those college students mocking your community?

      Or have you resolved to take your revenge against all those haters, whose petty, limited minds cannot comprehend your genius?

  19. OT: today is Wrongful Conviction Day. For a magazine called reason….

    1. We should nominate Bernie Sanders to head the parade. If anyone knows something about erroneous convictions, it’s a twenty-first century socialist.

  20. OT: no ideer if this map is accurate. However, lookit how few “mass shootings” there are in states with lots of guns.

      1. One of my uber-liberal anti-gun friends posted it. I don’t think she sees the irony.

      2. So, I looked at the data base behind the Vox article – one of the shootings was perpetrated with a pellet gun.

        Gonna go out on a limb and say the whole thing is bunk.

        1. It would be better for us gun nuts if it wasn’t bunk. Look at Chicago on that map – most anti-2A city in the country, and an absolute shit-ton of “mass shootings”.

          1. I think that example, along with all the shootings in anti-gun states/areas like CA and NYC, are better for us gun nuts. It proves that ‘gun control’ doesn’t work.

          2. Chicago is definitely not the most anti-2A city anymore. NYC is far worse, and I believe DC is worse.

    1. Kristen,

      I think the source offers an interesting perspective, in that it suggests including all victims of the type of violence under discussion, rather than those who died as a result.

    2. Re: Kristen Bids No Trump,

      OT: no ideer if this map is accurate. However, lookit how few “mass shootings” there are in states with lots of guns.

      That chart is based on a “study” that lumped together shootings where two people got shot with “mass shootings”. For instance, the three or four dots in the Houston area are supposed to represent places where mass shootings happened. That’s total BS. Those weren’t “mass shootings”. They were shootings involving several persons, most of the time due to gang activity, but not “mass shootings”.

      Marxians want to convey this notion that “mass shootings” are too common and that the cause is the availability of guns, but in fact mass shootings like the one that happened yesterday or in Aurora, CO and other places are very rare – fortunately. Most shootings are either between rival gangs, because of robberies, suicides or justified shootings.

    3. Given that the other commenters are pointing out it includes all 2+ person shootings, it’s a low fidelity map of the murder density, which is mostly driven by population density.

  21. Serious question:

    Are they counting the massacre of bikers by cops in Waco as a mass shooting? Because last I saw, there was zero evidence anybody but a cop pulled a trigger.

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