Year after year, the luminaries of international development, from Bill Gates to Jim Kim, Nick Kristof to Steven Pinker, line up to tell us about the wonderful progress that has been made against global poverty. According to the most recent estimates, published by the World Bank, there were “only” 734 million people living on less than $1.90 per day in 2015, down from 1.9 billion people in 1990.
It sounds like wonderful news. But there is a problem with this narrative. Oddly enough, there is no empirical basis for the $1.90 line. It is an arbitrary threshold that has no grounding in actual human needs. Empirical evidence shows that $1.90 per day is not even enough for people to secure decent nutrition, to say nothing of other basic requirements. In fact, at least 3.5 billion people live on more than this, and yet remain trapped in poverty.