The Great Surge | Steven Radelet

Summary of: The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World
By: Steven Radelet

Introduction

Embark on a journey through one of the most significant economic achievements in recent history: the dramatic decline in extreme poverty. ‘The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World’ unveils how various events and factors, including the shift towards democracy and capitalism, the adoption of international trade, and technological advancements, have contributed to this ‘great surge’ in global human welfare. As you read this compelling summary, get a glimpse of how nations such as China, India, Brazil, and South Africa have navigated these catalysts to pull millions out of extreme poverty, and understand what challenges and opportunities are ahead of us.

Decline of Extreme Poverty

A historic decline in extreme poverty has occurred for the first time in human history from 1993 to 2011. The number of people living in abject poverty reduced by over half within 18 years. This has been a great accomplishment that can be attributed to three catalysts: global conditions, new opportunities, and national leadership. China was the biggest force behind poverty reduction by initiating economic reforms in the 1980s that gradually led to a significant drop in the country’s extreme poverty from 646 million to 84 million in less than two decades. The decline of extreme poverty has not only been restricted to China; developing countries like India, Brazil, Ghana, and Mozambique, among others, have also made the list. Many countries improved their macroeconomic management and abandoned inflation-inducing fiscal deficits, leading to a reduction in the number of extremely poor people among 64 developing nations since 1993. Consequently, the world now lives in the most peaceful time in human history.

Progress in Global Health

The world is making significant strides towards improving global health. With advances in medical treatment and disease prevention, infant mortality rates have declined, life expectancy has increased and the global population growth rate is expected to plateau and decline. Most developing countries have successfully reduced mortality rates among children and increased their literacy rates. Moreover, there is a growing focus towards educational opportunities and public investment in healthcare. Although challenges still exist, particularly in the poorer regions of the world, the progress made so far is encouraging. By promoting sustained global investment in healthcare, we can continue to make significant gains in improving the health of our global community.

Developing Countries’ Advancements

In the last two decades, the developing world has experienced a significant increase in world trade, which has led to several advancements. Firstly, increased trade has expanded the availability of cheap goods to poor people, and secondly, developing countries can import new technologies and expertise. Moreover, foreign companies invest over $600 billion annually in developing nations, surpassing the $26 billion invested in 1990. The intellectual capital of developing countries has increased significantly, as patent applications increased eightfold between 1990 and 2012, excluding China and India. The adoption of mobile phones and Internet connections in developing nations has provided new opportunities for progress, and their accessibility has doubled in the past five years. The Green Revolution, which saw the development of new seeds, fertilizers, and agricultural methods, is central to the growth of developing countries. The advent of the Green Revolution resulted in the tripling of cereal crop production, without which today’s developing countries would produce 20% less food and incur food costs that are 35% to 65% higher. While most developing countries were under colonial rule until recently, economic integration has been beneficial to their development.

The Power of Democracy

Since the 1980s, the number of democracies around the world has tripled, leading to a 75% decrease in battle deaths during wartime. As developing countries switch to democracies, their economic growth tends to remain steady. However, maintaining a credible democracy requires long-term economic growth, poverty reduction, improved healthcare, and educational opportunities. Free and fair elections limit political power, while a successful democracy depends on an effective legislature, well-run court system, robust civil society, and transparency in public finances and decision-making processes. Despite these challenges, the rise of democracies has led to one of the greatest achievements in human history – improvements in health among the global poor. While terrorism remains a threat, its occurrence has not undermined the surge in human welfare. It is crucial for national leaders to make critical decisions to ensure the success of young and fragile democracies, as seen in countries like Armenia, Egypt, Nigeria, Thailand, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, which have switched back to authoritarian governments.

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