It might be the greatest achievement in human history, and yet so few have ever heard it. Global extreme poverty (defined by the United Nations as living on less than $1.90 a day), has been nearly eradicated. As recently as 1990, 32 percent of the world’s population subsisted on less than $1.90 a day. In 2005, the number was 20 percent. Now, the World Bank reports that as of 2015 this number had been reduced to 10 percent. A remarkable 50 percent cut in half in a decade. The pace of progress has been astounding, and it is only accelerating. It is not only possible but also highly probable that we will see the eradication of extreme poverty within the next 20 years.
What is truly astounding about this achievement is that it is entirely the product of human ingenuity and cooperation. Crushing poverty, rampant disease, constant warfare, sky-high infant and maternal mortality, and Malthusian food constraints were not consigned to the dustbin of history by mere happenstance. Something happened. Human beings developed the rule of law, open markets, and social norms conducive to the free exchange of goods and ideas, and, in so doing, we unleashed our unlimited potential to cooperate and innovate beyond anything dreamed imaginable. In short, in a mere two and a half centuries liberal democratic capitalism has nearly eradicated or vastly reduced almost every material problem from the old world that would then have been considered a scourge of civilization.