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Bill Gates is right about poverty, the world really is getting richer

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08.03.2019

Last month, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates touched off a high-profile debate about global poverty after tweeting out a graph from the website Our World in Data showing that the number of people living on less than $US1.90 a day (adjusting for inflation and price difference between countries) has fallen dramatically. That graph looked something like this:

Anthropologist Jason Hickel, writing in the pages of the Guardian, took exception, disputed the graph and denied Gates's assertion. Two of Our World in Data's creators, Joe Hasell and Max Roser, defended their methodology for measuring poverty, which Hickel then criticised more. The debate was well summarised by Dylan Matthews in Vox.

It's understandable that some people in the UK and the US would want to embrace a narrative of increasing global immiseration. These rich countries are struggling with their own economic problems -- inequality, reduced mobility and wage stagnation -- and no doubt those in Hickel's camp also feel guilty for the imperial conquests of past centuries. But that narrative is false. Hickel is wrong, and Gates, Hasell and Roser are correct -- global poverty has indeed been dropping at a dramatic and unprecedented rate.

One of Hickel's main arguments is that the poverty threshold used by Our World in Data -- $US1.90 a day in 2011 international dollars -- is too low. Hickel suggests instead using a threshold of $US7.40 a day to measure extreme poverty. If........

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