Global infant mortality has halved since 1960. The poorest countries are steadily catching up to the richest on other critical measures of the quality of life: life expectancy, literacy, political and civil rights – not to mention beer production per capita. This blog tries to remind us all periodically that there ARE successes in development. Charles Kenny has a great book in the works that will shoulder THAT load from now on. Kenny is a clear-eyed and honest observer of development that I have admired for a long time. He summarizes his forthcoming book on his website, from which I got the statements in the first paragraph.
(He also points out that per capita income growth in poor countries has not lived up to expectations and we don’t have a clue why – another theme of this blog also – but I think he is too negative about this growth, which is respectable even if not matching development economists’ expectations. Anyway, he argues that other quality of life indicators are disconnected from GDP growth.)
Kenny argues that the rapid spread of technology and ideas have led to the happy trends he identifies. Technology and ideas have made, for example, good health, cheaper and easier. (Cheap technology: soap. Spreading idea: wash your hands.) I have previously noted that aid should get part of the credit for improving health, and aid could do even better on these improving things in the future as Kenny argues. Kenny summarizes his work:
Realistic optimism is the right attitude with which to face the issue of development… a recognition of the challenges still facing the world – significant progress to be made, limits to the likely speed of that progress…. But we should also acknowledge that the rapid and unprecedented improvement in global quality of life over the past fifty years provides some significant grounds for hope about the future.