Jason Hickel, Dylan Sullivan: Capitalism, Global Poverty, and the Case for Democratic Socialism

Over the past several years, a new narrative about global poverty has become entrenched in mainstream discourse. It holds that extreme poverty—a condition of absolute deprivation associated with severe calorie and nutrient deficiency and an inability to access basic goods—is the natural condition of humanity, and afflicted some 90 percent of the world population before the rise of capitalism liberated people from misery. This narrative relies in large part on a graph showing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty since 1820, declining from a starting point of 90 percent. The graph was originally developed by the former World Bank economist Martin Ravallion and was later popularized by Steven Pinker in his bestselling book, Enlightenment Now. It has since circulated widely on social media.

This narrative suffers from several empirical problems, however,…

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