Getting Better | Charles Kenny

Summary of: Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More
By: Charles Kenny


Dive into the world of ‘Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More’ by Charles Kenny, a book that challenges widely held beliefs regarding income disparity and global development. Delve into the complexities of the gap between the richest and poorest countries, the limitations of economic growth theories, and why improvements in quality of life are not solely dependent on high income. As you explore these intricate topics, you’ll discover the importance of focusing on quality-of-life progress for a more comprehensive understanding of global development.

Understanding Global Wealth Disparities

It is a well-known fact that income gaps exist within and between countries; however, the extent of these disparities is nothing short of astounding. Around 1 billion people globally survive on less than a dollar a day, in stark contrast to the continuous growth experienced by rich nations. African income levels, for instance, have remained stagnant since the 1960s, with Senegal’s income per capita decreasing between 1960 and 2004. In comparison, the US GDP per capita was roughly 26 times higher in 2004. The lifetime income of a rural Zambian is $10,000, whereas the average New Yorker earns $4.5 million. Additionally, the richest-poorest gap between nations has increased from approximately 33-fold in 1950 to around 127-fold today. Illustrating this point, in 2008, the Netherlands had an income per capita of $24,695, while Congo-Zaire’s was just $249. Furthermore, India’s poorest in 1993 had income levels comparable to medieval English peasants. These shocking statistics underline the tremendous advantages for those residing in more affluent nations.

Economic Growth Theories’ Flaws

Economic growth theories lack a one-size-fits-all approach to alleviate poverty and stimulate growth in underdeveloped countries. These theories assume that all countries function similarly, but real-world evidence contradicts this belief. For example, Zambia should have been wealthy according to an “investment-to-growth” model, but its GDP per capita remained low. Moreover, predicting future growth is challenging due to the unique aspects and varying factors influencing each country’s economic progress. With economic growth being a context-dependent, complex phenomenon, the only scientifically valid answer to what causes growth is, “It depends.” Consequently, finding a solution for poor countries may involve trial and error, acknowledging that it may not be a fully satisfying approach.

Unprecedented Global Progress

Our lives today surpass anything our ancestors could have imagined just a century ago. Across the globe, rapid advancements are evident in areas such as health, education, civil and political rights, infrastructure, communication, and culture. Remarkable examples include a 50% decrease in infant mortality rate since 1960, doubled literacy rates in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 1999, and a leap in life expectancy from 48 to 69 years in the Middle East and North Africa within just four decades. This enhancement in quality of life is a worldwide phenomenon, bringing greater equality between countries. The consistent increase in global life expectancy and equitable distribution of good health demonstrate our collective achievements. So, next time you worry about your life’s quality, remember the true wonders of living in this era, far removed from the Middle Ages.

The Good Life Redefined

The good life is becoming more affordable due to the global exchange of ideas and advancements in technology. Agricultural innovations have slashed the costs of living and diminished the risks of large-scale famines by lowering food prices by nearly 50 percent since the mid-twentieth century. This progress now extends to health, where low-cost, easy-to-adopt practices like adding bleach to drinking water in developing countries have significantly reduced diarrhea cases by 50 to 80 percent. Oral rehydration with a simple sugar-salt-water solution has effectively treated cholera and other diarrheal illnesses. Governments are increasingly showing efficiency in delivering essential services like education, healthcare, and political access. With emerging technologies and ideas, the cost of a good life will continue to drop, making it more attainable for wider populations.

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