You think the Great Recession is the biggest economic story of our time? Nope. Not event close. This is:
A World Bank report shows a broad reduction in extreme poverty — and indicates that the global recession, contrary to economists’ expectations, did not increase poverty in the developing world. … Much of the story was about China, which moved nearly 700 million people out of poverty between 1981 and 2008, with the proportion of its population living in extreme poverty falling to 13 percent from 84 percent during that period. The country’s annual pace of economic growth never dipped below 9 percent, even in 2009, when the world’s economy contracted.
What happened in China? Well, although there’s a debate over whether or not Deng Xiaoping actually said it, his alleged axiom, “To get rich is glorious” is certainly the message Beijing started sending in 1978. And what people hear and believe matters. Really matters. Economist Deirdre McCloskey on how “bourgeois dignity” created the modern world:
We need to explain the astonishing enrichment in bourgeois countries from 1800 to the present, such as Norway’s move from $3 a day in 1800 to $137 in 2006. But the explanation cannot be economic. If it were so — trade, investment, incentives — it would have happened earlier, or in other places. Economics determines how the tide of growth expressed itself down this inlet or beside that quay. Good. But the tide itself had “rhetorical” causes. …
What changed were habits of the lip. It’s not a “rise of the bourgeoisie,” but a rise in other people’s opinion of the bourgeoisie that makes for economic growth — as it is now doing in China and India. When people treat the marketeers and inventors as having some dignity and liberty, innovation takes hold. It was so to speak a shift in “constitutional political economy,” as James Buchanan puts the point. People agreed on the meta-rule of letting the economy go where it will. This contrasted with the earlier mentality, still admired on the left, that treats each act of innovation as an occasion to go looking for its victims. Victims there were, but they were greatly outnumbered by winners. It was ideas, not matter, that made the winners, and brought our ancestors from $3 to over $100 a day.