A recent episode of the Citations Needed podcast took a critical look at what they called the “Neoliberal Optimism Industry”, where various public figures such as cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker tout various statistics purporting to show rapid improvements in quality of life for people around the world. This is mostly true, but a closer look at some of the data reveals that the optimists are overstating their case. The guest on the podcast, Jason Hickel, went into depth on why the widely cited figures on rapid decline of extreme poverty are not quite what they seem.
First, Hickel notes that the poverty measure most often cited is the equivalent of $1.90 per person per day in 2011 US dollars. This metric was devised by the World Bank and is based off of poverty levels set by nations in the lowest 25% of GDP. This measure represents an extreme level of deprivation, which is why world bank also uses two additional poverty measures, $3.20 and $5.50 per day in 2011 US dollars. These are representative of poverty levels set by countries in the 2nd and 3rd income quartiles respectively. For comparison, the poverty level in the US is about $21.70 per day in 2011 dollars. The focus on the fact that the rate of people living on $1.90 a day is approaching 10% hides the prevalence of poverty at the $3.20 and $5.50 levels, which themselves are still dire.Read More