The Success of Development


Soweto, South Africa (Wikimedia)

Soweto, South Africa (Wikimedia)

I’ve been sort of in a funk about the prospects for doing something to improve the lives of the world’s poorest ever since I read Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms which suggests that the state of play in places like Africa is actually worse than most people think. One possible antidote, it seems, will come from development economist Charles Kenny, whose The Success of Development aims to kick me out of my miasma:

A lot of people are depressed about the state of global development. And they are particularly miserable about Africa. There is a widespread belief that the region remains mired in a Malthusian trap, home to many of the ‘bottom billion’ who are living in ‘fourteenth century’ conditions. And many argue that aid has been a dead loss in fixing the problem. According to this view of the world, we’re stuck in a serious crisis of development.

This book explores the bad news and the good news about development. It lays out the evidence on growing income disparities between the global rich and the global poor that are at the heart of a narrative of crisis. And it chronicles the failed search for a silver bullet to overcome economic malaise.

But it also discusses the considerable successes of development. Not least, the evidence for any country being stuck in a Malthusian nightmare is threadbare. The book points to global progress in health, education, civil and political rights, access to infrastructure and even access to beer. This progress is historically unprecedented and has been faster in the developing world than in the developed.

Interestingly, he’s making the book available for free online. Felix Salmon says he’s been glued to his Kindle all day reading it. I haven’t had that luxury, but I’m looking forward to checking it out.