Are some of the most impoverished places on the planet poised to make major economic gains?
That’s the question we found ourselves asking today after reading David Leonhardt’s New York Times column, which takes an optimistic (and rather counterintuitive) look at the status of some of the world’s poorest nations.
Based on a new book called Getting Better by Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at Center for Global Development, the piece concludes that countries such as Liberia are still desperately poor, but life is getting better in other important ways.
“The biggest success of development,” Leonhardt quotes Kenny as saying, “has not been making people richer but, rather, has been making the things that really matter—things like health and education— cheaper and more widely available.” Over the last 30 years, Leonhardt adds, much of Africa and the Middle East has produced citizens “who are better educated than their ancestors and have far better access to information.”
These references to education and information jumped out at us because, for Peter Drucker, they were the keys to success in our knowledge age.
“The basic economic resource—‘the means of production,’ to use the economist’s term—is no longer capital, nor natural resources (the economist’s ‘land’), nor ‘labor,” Drucker wrote in his 1993 book Post-Capitalist Society. “It is and will be knowledge. The central wealth-creating activities will be . . . ‘productivity’ and ‘innovation,’ both applications of knowledge to work.”
What’s uncertain is when—or even if—these rising education levels in the poorest parts of the world will begin translating into increased wealth. Right now, remember, about one in six people on the planet subsist on less than $1 a day.
“The most hopeful part of Mr. Kenny’s hopeful message is that progress in health, education and human rights may ultimately bring economic progress as well,” Leonhardt writes. However, he points out, Kenny “is cautious on this point, noting that economists have failed time and time again to come up with consistent explanations for economic growth.”
For his part, Drucker seemed to be relatively optimistic. “It is highly probable,” he asserted in Post-Capitalist Society, “that within the next decade or two there will be new and startling ‘economic miracles,’ in which poor, backward Third World countries transform themselves, virtually overnight, into fast-growth economic powers.”
What do you think: Can steadily improving levels of education lift some of the most impoverished parts of the world out of poverty? Or are there too many other problems to overcome?