THE MOST BASIC FORM OF INDEPENDENCE

THE MOST BASIC FORM OF INDEPENDENCE

In politics we tend to think of independence in the context of freedom from the control of others. But the ability of people to live happy, productive lives is its own form of independence. America’s founders called it “the pursuit of happiness”; US President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of “freedom from want,” and it’s one of the under-reported “good” news stories of our time.


Worldwide, the number of people living on less than $1.90 per day — the World Bank’s threshold for the poorest of the poor — has fallen by more than half since 1990. That’s largely due to millions of people escaping extreme poverty in China and, more recently, in India, where a combination of strong economic growth and more targeted programs, such as rural electrification, more efficient benefits payments, and a push to give millions access to basic financial services is lifting an average of 44 people out of the ranks of the world’s poorest every minute.

It’s not all good news, though. As we pointed out last week, a recent analysisby Brookings showed that globally, the world’s worst-off are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria recently overtook India as home of the most people living in dire poverty, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is on track to take the No 2 spot soon.

Here are some of the factors that will shape the evolution of global poverty:

Fewer easy gains: China and India’s massive populations are served by governments that, even if they are inefficient or occasionally corrupt, are still able to deliver basic security and increase access to economic opportunities for their people. No leader in Nigeria’s modern history has managed to tackle the country’s rampant public graft, and the DRC is effectively a failed state. Extreme poverty may be falling overall, but the countries where it is the biggest problem today are also more politically dysfunctional.

Climate change: India may be a budding success story, but with 600 million people in the country already facing the prospect of acute water shortages, and the UN forecasting 200 million climate refugees around the world by 2050, it would be a mistake to take recent progress for granted.

Technology-related disruption: The steady replacement of manual labor by machines has arguably done more to create wealth and free people from a life of poverty and drudgery than any other phenomenon. But will that trend still hold in an age of artificial intelligence? Countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been waiting for their turn to enjoy the spoils of manufacturing-driven growth could miss out if robots end up taking more jobs than they create.

None of this takes away from the huge strides made against extreme poverty in recent decades, but it does suggest that further gains will be harder to come by. Despite recent progress, an estimated 640 million-plus people around the world who subsist on less than $1.90 a day have yet to achieve the most basic form of independence. Something for us all to consider as we tuck into our Independence Day barbecues.

We pay little attention to the waves of the sea, yet they are the greatest unused source of renewable energy in the world. Meet ISWEC and Power Buoy, two interesting new technologies used to harness this energy. Learn more about the extraordinary power of waves in this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series, where we investigate interesting facts and trends about energy.

Ukraine is once again in a tough spot.

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Listen: Soumya Swaminathan calls for a massive increase in the global vaccine supply in order to prevent the rise of more dangerous and vaccine-evading super-variants, in a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. Dr. Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, argues that vaccine nationalism, where countries prioritize their own citizens ahead of the rest of the world, will only prolong the pandemic because a virus does not stop at any national border. She also weighs in on a controversial new WHO report investigating the origins of COVID-19 and discusses when she thinks the world's children should get vaccinated. In addition, she suggests we may see alternative vaccine forms, like nasal sprays, sooner than we think.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

India, the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. But it takes issue with those now asking it to clean up its act. Why, the Indians ask, should we give up our right to get rich by burning fossil fuels like you developed economies have done for generations?

That's precisely the message that India's energy minister had for the US and other wealthy nations at a recent Zoom summit after they pressured Delhi to set a future deadline for net zero emissions. For India, he explained, such targets are "pie in the sky" aspirations that do little to address the climate crisis the country faces right now.

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The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are nearly a year away, but discussion of a potential boycott is already stoking tensions on both sides of the US-China relationship. Officials in Washington and other Western capitals are coming under mounting pressure from activists to respond to human rights abuses in China. An increasingly assertive Beijing, meanwhile, vigorously rejects any foreign criticism of what it regards as internal issues.

The last time the US boycotted an Olympics was in 1980, when it withdrew from the Summer Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviet Union repaid in kind by skipping the Games in Los Angeles. Would the US and its allies do something like that again? And how might China respond? Eurasia Group analysts Neil Thomas and Allison Sherlock explain the drivers of the boycott movement and its possible fallout.

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In two weeks, US President Joe Biden will be hosting an online "climate summit" to mark Earth Day. He'll ask China and India to sign up to America's ambitious new plan to slow down climate change. Will they go for it? China is the world's largest polluter, but Beijing is rolling out solar and wind power as fast as it's burning coal. India, meanwhile, is loathe to pick up the slack for rich countries that polluted their way to wealth and now want everyone else to agree to emissions cuts. No matter what happens, any successful plan to reduce global emissions will require buy-in from these three nations which, along with the European Union, account for almost 60 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions nowadays. Here's a look at emissions by the world's top polluters compared to everyone else over the last two decades.

Two big Andean elections: This Sunday, Ecuadorians go to the polls for the second time this year in a close presidential runoff, while Peruvians will vote in the first round of their own presidential election. In Ecuador, the matchup is between the leftwing-populist frontrunner Andrés Arauz, who has pledged to blow up the country's IMF agreements and boost national oil production, and Guillermo Lasso, a pro-business candidate who is seen as the choice of continuity with the current market-friendly government. Voter abstention is likely to be high, and the final result could very well be close and contested in a polarized country that was struggling with massive social unrest even before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile in Peru — which recently went through three presidents in the space of a week — the candidate field is hugely fragmented. Those with a decent shot to make it to the second round include "change" candidates like the leftist former lawmakers Yohny Lescano and Verónica Mendoza, as well as the prominent neoliberal economist Hernando De Soto, who has recently risen in the polls. Former soccer star George Forsyth is also in the mix, as is Keiko Fujimori, daughter of authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori. Both of this Sunday's elections will serve as a kind of bellwether for the political mood in a region that has been devastated by the public health and economic impact of the pandemic.

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Nasal sprays, oral vaccines, and other new types of COVID-19 vaccines may be ready soon, according to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization. She previews some of these needle-less vaccines and notes that the possibility of being able to store vaccines at room temperature could be a game-changer for vaccinating poorer nations. The advantage of nasal sprays, she explains, is that they "would generate local mucosal immunity in addition to systemic immunity." Dr. Swaminathan's conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured on the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 9. Check local listings.

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