CAN EXTREME POVERTY BE
BY JEFFREY D. SACHS
Almost everyone who ever lived was wretchedly poor. Famine, death from childbirth, infectious disease and countless other hazards were the norm for most of history. Humanity’s sad plight started to change with the Industrial Revolution, beginning around 1750. New scientific insights and technological innovations enabled a growing proportion of the global population to break free of extreme poverty. Two and a half centuries later more than five billion of the world’s 6.5 billion people can reliably meet their basic living needs and thus can be said to have escaped from the precarious conditions that once governed everyday life. One out of six inhabitants of this planet, however, still struggles daily to meet some or all of such critical requirements as adequate nutrition, uncontaminated drinking water, safe shelter and sanitation as well as access to basic health care. These people get by on $1 a day or less and are overlooked by public services for health, education and infrastructure. Every day more than
SCIENTIFIC A MERIC A N
20,000 die of dire poverty, for want of food, safe drinking water, medicine or other essential needs.
For the fi rst time in history, global economic prosperity, brought on by continuing scientific and technological progress and the self-reinforcing accumulation of wealth, has placed the world within reach of eliminating extreme poverty altogether. This prospect will seem fanciful to some, but the dramatic economic progress made by China, India and other low-income parts of Asia over the past 25 years demonstrates that it is realistic.
Moreover, the predicted stabilization of the world’s population toward the middle of this century will help by easing pressures on Earth’s climate, ecosystems and natural resources — pressures that might otherwise undo economic gains.
Although economic growth has shown a remarkable capacity to lift vast numbers of people out of extreme