How do we, who are having such bad economic times here, stack up compared to the rest of the world? Where are we on the world's economic development ladder? I don’t know much about economics, but these questions were recently asked of me, so I thought I’d find out. Economic development, as it turns out has a fascinating history. Economist, Jeffrey Sachs, describes a four step ladder, as a way of viewing the world in terms of economic development. The first step, which I’ll describe today, is not really a “step” because it’s not even on the ladder. It is “extreme poverty.”
Today one billion people – one sixth of the earth’s population – live in extreme poverty. This "bottom billion" is so economically destitute, that their very survival is at risk on a daily basis. Their lives are fragile. They live with drought, famine, starvation. Any small change can make the difference between life and death – a storm that wipes out meager crops, being struck with a simple disease, but having no access to medicine to treat it, late delivery of food – all of theses sorts of threats are very real, and can mean death to entire populations living in extreme poverty. If there is any income that comes into the hands of those in extreme poverty, it is counted in pennies per day.
For much of human history, the vast majority of the world’s population has lived in extreme poverty. Our ancestors struggled for their very survival, in a harsh world, with a fragile existence. Wealth, above extreme poverty, did not become accessible to common people until the mid 1700’s. It is only since about 1750 that humanity has climbed onto the first rungs of the economic development ladder.
Extreme poverty does not exist in developed countries. It is a condition that afflicts swaths of the developing world. Seventy percent of the extreme poor live in
The tragedy of our times is that such dire circumstances affect one billion of our fellow men, women and children, in a world with such vast resources.
One of the goals of the United Nations is to wipe out extreme poverty by the year 2025, and to cut it in half by 2015. It requires commitment from wealthy nations, but I think it also requires awareness by the rest of humanity that such conditions exist and that solutions are available. The bottom billion require assistance to get on the economic ladder, to move from extreme poverty to just regular poverty. It is a small step, but the most important one in terms of the survival.