How much do you know about global poverty? Before you start reading I challenge you to take the test.
I wonder how you did. If, like me, you didn’t do great first-time round, you’re far from alone. What if I told you that, on average, chimpanzees score better on this test than humans all over the world? Well, after reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling, I can say that it’s true! Through purely random choice, chimpanzees end up, on average, with 4 out of 12 correct answers. This test was taken in 14 countries in the Global North, and not a single one beat the chimps. The general public scored an average of 2.2. The final score: chimps 4 – humans 2. We are not only catastrophically wrong about the world; we are consistently wrong about the world.
Too much doom and gloom
We tend to think the world is a whole lot worse than it is. Take question 3 for example:
‘In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has . . . A – almost doubled, B – remained more or less the same or C – almost halved.’
60% chose A- the most negative answer and a mere 9% chose C – the most positive answer, which is also the correct answer. Why are we so wrong about the world and why do we think the situation is so bad? We have been hard-wired to jump to conclusions and focus on dramatic information instead of long-term trends. This used to help us avoid danger. But now, it leads us astray. We assume, from hearing stories of earthquakes, droughts and terrorist attacks that the whole world must be going downhill. In reality, almost all indicators of quality of life have been improving across the world.
Reasons for hope
Over a billion people moved out of extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.90 per day) between 1990 and 2015. That’s down from 36% of the world population living in extreme poverty in 1990, to around 10% in 2015. If you look at the wider trend, the observations are even more staggering. In 1800, 85% of the population lived in extreme poverty. The World Bank has called this poverty reduction ‘one of the most remarkable achievements of humankind’ and it’s great that charities like Tearfund have played a significant role in bringing about this achievement.
So, when we ask, ‘why don’t miracles, like the ones that happened in the Bible, happen anymore’, are we kidding ourselves? We’ve heard of the wonderful story of Jesus healing the leper. Would you believe me if I said billions of this type of miracle have happened since 1980? In 1980, 22% of 1-year olds got at least one vaccination. By 2016, 88% do. In my book, healing people before they fall ill is the best kind of healing.
Why am I writing this? I fear that some of us may be trapped in the prison of hopelessness. Many times, I’ve heard myself think, ‘what’s the point in trying to live ethically and campaign for global justice, when things are only getting worse?’ Right now, we are more prone to that sort of thinking: what the ‘Gapminder Test’ data I mentioned (which was taken in 2017) doesn’t show, is the effect of Coronavirus pandemic on global poverty. The World Bank predicts that the crisis will eradicate almost all progress made in terms of poverty reduction over the last 5 years.
But if we know that real change is possible, then let’s get on with making further change happen. Ending extreme poverty in our lifetime is possible because it’s already happening! At the same time let’s not let a positive outlook make us complacent. An improving world does not mean that everything is right in the world, far from it. Even though the number of people living in poverty is decreasing, efforts to reduce poverty aren’t any less important. Every person that is suffering is deeply valuable to God and he hates to see them suffer.
As Dannie wrote in her article, let’s have a mind like Christ in this. Jesus was neither blinded by an ‘everything will be alright’ positivity, nor ensnared by hopelessness. He leaves the 99 sheep to find the one that is lost. But he never doubted that he’d be able to find that sheep.