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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.

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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"The 'American exceptionalism' that I grew up with, the 'American exceptionalism' of the Cold War…I do think has outlived its usefulness." Those words coming from Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama, indicate how much the world has changed in the past few decades. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy

Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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