Extreme poverty isn’t natural, it’s created jasonhickel.org
But if these findings are anything to go by, we need to reevaluate the dominant narrative about long-term poverty trends. The notion that extreme poverty is the baseline state of humanity falls apart, and it becomes clear that the story is more complicated. In general terms, extreme poverty likely increased during periods of enclosure and colonization (after all, we know that imperial interventions caused near total demographic collapse in Latin America, serial famines that killed up to 70 million people in India, a collapse of wages in China, etc.), before finally declining with the rise of labour movements, democracy and decolonization. Indeed, this is indicated by existing data on welfare ratios in Europe and Asia.
There’s a final observation from Allen’s paper that’s worth pointing out. Allen finds that the $1.90/day (PPP) line is lower than the level of consumption of enslaved people in the United States in the 19th century. In other words, the poverty threshold the World Bank uses, and which underpins the progress narrative, is below the level of enslavement. It is striking that anyone would accept this as a reasonable benchmark for “progress” in a civilized society.