An Amazing Story

In the wake of last week’s bid for Unocal by the Chinese oil firm CNOOC, the press has been full of stories about China’s newly emerging economic might. That economic power is real, and without a doubt will gradually change the way the world looks over the coming decades. From the US’s point of view, not all of those changes will necessarily be for the better.

But while I was looking for some data on China’s savings rate for yesterday’s post about differences in savings behavior, I was impressed by the multitude of statistics that I encountered that illustrate just how dramatically life has tangibly improved for hundreds of millions of people in China over the past decade or two. The following statistics portray how China’s rapid economic development has caused a marked improvement in living standards for a mind-bogglingly large number of people.

Sources: Poverty figures from the ADB report, “Poverty in Asia” (2004); other figures from China Statistical Yearbook and World Development Report.

Such dramatic improvements in the quality of life for such a large number of people is probably unprecedented in all of human history.

There’s a lot to criticize about China’s government and its policies. But say what you will, it is hard to argue that China’s recent economic success has not lead to vastly improved lives for hundreds of millions of people – a sizeable proportion of the entire human race. It’s an achievement that deserves to be appreciated and celebrated by all of us.