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.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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