Putting aside the United States, which ranks third, the four most populous countries are China, India, Indonesia andBrazil, accounting for more than 40 percent of the world’s people. And all four have made great strides. Indonesia had solid economic growth during the entire decade, mostly in the 5 to 6 percent annual range. That came after its very turbulent 1990s, marked by a disastrous financial crisis and plummeting standards of living.
Brazil also had a consistently good decade, with growth at times exceeding 5 percent a year. There is lots of talk that the country has finally turned the corner, and, within its borders, there is major worry that its currency is too strong — a problem that many other countries would envy.
To be sure, in Africa, there is still enormous misery. Nonetheless, overall standards of living rose in a wide variety of countries there, with economic growth for the continent as a whole at more than 5 percent in most years. Many basic essentials, like water, sanitation, electricity and especially telephones, are more commonly available.
One lesson from all of this is that steady economic growth is an underreported news story — and to our own detriment. As human beings, we are prone to focus on very dramatic, visible events, such as confrontations with political enemies or the personal qualities of leaders, whether good or bad. We turn information about politics and economics into stories of good guys versus bad guys and identify progress with the triumph of the good guys. In the process, it’s easy to neglect the underlying forces that improve life in small, hard-to-observe ways, culminating in important changes.