On the Origins of the Idea of Ending Poverty
The late 18th century saw the intellectual germ of the idea of “ending poverty,” but the idea did not get far in economics or policy making until much more recently. Over the 19th century, poverty rates fell substantially in Western Europe and North America, and we started to see mainstream advocates of ending chronic poverty, and policies for doing so. There was an explosion of interest in the idea from around 1960, with policy responses in many countries, including America. In the post-Colonial period, the newly independent states were keen to see an end to poverty. From the 1990s, development agencies began to identify this as their overarching objective. The U.N.’s first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) of halving the 1990 poverty rate by 2015 was achieved ahead of time. The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals came to include ending extreme poverty by 2030. This is more ambitious than MDG1, and more politically challenging. Economic growth in poor countries is likely to remain important, but the policy emphasis has shifted to redistributive interventions, though these will require a deeper reach to the poorest if we are to see the end of poverty, judged by any chosen poverty line.
For helpful comments, the author thanks Tim Besley, Francisco Ferreira, Martin Gutmann, David Hulme, Michael Lokshin, Giovanni Vecchi, Dominique van de Walle and Nicolas van de Walle. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.