A Better World For Kids
Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding--And How We Can Improve the World Even More
March 1, 2011
256 pp., $18.17
Generations of news media have branded the academic discipline of economics "the dismal science" for its gloomy forecasts.
But Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, calls himself "an optimistic economist" and has reported compelling evidence that the global economic glass is at least half-full. His contrarian 2011 book, Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding—And How We Can Improve the World Even More (Basic Books), takes an evidence-based approach to the study of global poverty.
Each year, billions of dollars in aid are spent to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Three of the eight goals directly connect to the welfare of children: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, and reducing child-mortality rates by two-thirds.
UN member states adopted the goals in 2000 and set a deadline of 2015, now 18 months away. Kenny said that while not all those goals will be achieved by then, the progress has been significant. He recently spoke with Christianity Today senior editor of global journalism Timothy C. Morgan about his findings.
Your book describes a historic decline in global poverty. But hasn't the worldwide economic recession bumped poverty rates back up?
If I were writing the book today, I would be more positive. What has become clear is that the African continent, sub-Saharan Africa in particular, is having one of its best decades ever. Some of the fastest-growing countries in the world have been in Africa, and these countries over the past decade have doubled their gross domestic product. It's really an impressive performance.
We have seen quite dramatic poverty reduction as a result. If you look at Africa in the 1990s, the proportion of Africans living on $1.25 a day went up. But since 2000, it's been tumbling back down the other way. There's good news about income pretty much everywhere over the past decade.
You would have expected in 2008–2009 to see a dramatic reversal in progress in poverty and income. There was a slowdown. They didn't drop as far as the West has, and they bounced back faster. Not even the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression reversed the progress.
If you look at child mortality, Africa has had a spectacular decade. In a four- or five-year period, for example, Senegal reduced child mortality by two-fifths. It's a big drop.
The past ten years have seen dramatically faster progress on reducing child mortality. We've halved the number of African children who are going to die before their fifth birthday. The progress has been historically unprecedented. Africa is leading the charge over the past decade in reducing child mortality. It's a wonderful story.
Some experts still look at the glass as half empty. For example, Somalia and Burundi don't seem to be getting better at all. What's your response?
There is immense unnecessary suffering worldwide. I don't want to say the glass is full. It's a long way from full.
There is misery of every form in places like the Congo [DRC]. I don't want to sound ridiculously positive in the face of such misery. Yet even in the Congo, from the survey evidence, child mortality is dropping. It's dropping from hideous highs, but it is dropping. There are small signs of progress—green shoots if you will.
The people in the Congo and in other war-torn regions are changing behaviors that are improving lives, especially of their kids. Even in the Congo, vaccination rates are up, and more parents are telling their kids to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom.