Getting Better

Fifty years ago, Africa was more and Europe and America were rich, and over the past fifty years per capita GDP has only diverged further. But Charles Kenny’s Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More argues that it’s a mistake to read this as implying that global development has been a failure. Not only have many poor people gotten richer in places like India and China, even in the parts of Africa where people haven’t gotten richer, quality of life has improved. Child mortality rates have plummeted, education is more widespread, political systems are freer, there’s less violence, diseases have been cured, etc.

It’s persuasive and a very pleasant short book. One section close to my heart (though somewhat distant from the core point of the argument) wonders why it is that mustering some optimism about the trajectory of human history is considered a “right-wing” view when “a century of unprecedented global improvement in quality of life was also one of unprecedented growth in the size of government.”

The key policy points (I think) are that if rich countries want to help we should permit more immigration from poor countries, stop trying to impose destructive intellectual property rules on poor countries, stop offering military assistance to repressive regimes, and bolster morale about the fact that foreign aid has been successful at promoting public health in the past and can continue to make even more progress in the future.