A Way Out for Global Poverty?

Remember the Live Below the Line challenge from a few weeks ago? Survive on $1.50 a day and all that? Well, I still haven’t done it. I’ve been traveling this past week, so my challenge week is going to start on Monday. Will keep you posted.

But… that’s not what I wanted to write about. Rather, the reason I mention it is that if the World Bank has their way, the Live Below the Line challenge will be a thing of the past come the year 2030. Not because people will no longer care about raising awareness of the plight of the world’s poor, but because the president of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, announced last week the goal of raising every global citizen to a living standard above the extreme poverty threshold.

It’s certainly a noble goal, raising the standard of living of the poorest. But a critic could complain that the bar is being set quite low. Those of you who tried the Live Below the Line challenge will know that those living only slightly above the line are still in dire straits. But if the World Bank is going to set a bar, well, low bars are better than no bars.

But then, even with the standard set where it is, is it even possible? Sure, you can say it’s a modest target, a somewhat arbitrarily assigned number that is magically the tipping point between extreme poverty and the less extreme version. But regardless of the target, there are still 1.2 billion people globally living below it, or about 20% of the human population. The good news however is that in 1990 the percentage was closer to 40. Twenty years to half it. Another 17 to eliminate?

It’s possible. Difficult, but possible. China alone accounted for half of the above decrease in extreme poverty rates. Some hundreds of millions of people climbing out of extreme poverty over the last twenty years. And if they can lead such a quick turnaround, why not other countries? Although we might want to hesitate a moment before holding China up as a shining example, and be aware that a large portion of this shift is due to radical urbanization, which brings its own problems, however, there are signs and trends that suggest the goal of the World Bank is attainable.


And what then? And perhaps more importantly, why? Why should this be our concern, when there are enough local problems to deal with already? Well to answer that question, you can be as altruistic or selfish as you like. Leveling the playing field, and giving everyone equal opportunities are certainly noble goals, but we’re also all increasingly interconnected. Whether we want to be or not. Let’s not forget the global economic crisis of yesterday and today. But, conversely, this interconnectedness also means that a rise in the fortunes of people in developing areas leads to increases in trade potential and product demand, and so opens up new markets to other countries. Investing in eliminating global poverty results in an investment in eliminating local poverty as jobs are created and opportunities arise.

There has always been the disparity between the “have’s” and “have-not’s” lingering over us. But maybe if we can reach a point where it becomes the “have’s” and the “have-slightly-less’s,” maybe then we’ll finally find ourselves on the right track.


David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.