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Homo sapiens has been on this earth for 200,000 years. For most of that time, we lived in poverty and misery. What changed?

The Most Important Thing that the New York Times Left Out

By Marian L. Tupy & Chelsea Follett @HumanProgress

Today, Nicholas Kristof of the NYT wrote an op-ed entitled, “The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret.” According to Kristof, “The most important thing going on in the world today is something we almost never cover: a rapid decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.” 

Kristof makes a powerful case for the improving state of humanity and rightly bemoans the fact that the media all too often focus on war, hunger and despair. And that gives most readers the wrong impression that the world is falling apart.

But, where did all the progress that Kristof talks about come from? 

The Homo sapiens has been on this earth for 200,000 years. For 99.9 percent of that time, we lived in ignorance, poverty and misery. What has changed? Reading the NYT, the reader is left with the impression that “good stuff,” like manna from heaven, suddenly was conjured up out of thin air. 

Not so. The key to the improvements in the lives of ordinary people over the last 200 years were industrialization and trade, which generated historically unprecedented rates of growth. And the importance of growth cannot be overemphasized. There is not a single example of a country emerging from widespread poverty without sustained economic growth. As University of Oxford Professor Paul Collier writes, “Growth is not a cure-all, but lack of growth is a kill-all.” 

Don’t let the headlines fool you. Explore the data for yourself.

Marian L. Tupy is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and editor of HumanProgress.org. Chelsea Follett is the managing editor of HumanProgress.org.

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