Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


Our friend and colleague Charles Kenny has taken a leap into the world of Open Book Blogging, with his excellent early draft of The Success of Development. Like my CGD colleague David Roodman, who is writing a book on microfinance through a similar format, this is a brave venture to put draft work up for all to see—and criticize. But then that’s precisely the point.

The book takes on Chicken Little alarmists, Malthus, economists’ obsession with economic growth, and others by pointing to

…global progress in health, education, civil and political rights, access to infrastructure and even access to beer. This progress is historically unprecedented and has been faster in the developing world than in the developed.

While documenting the divergence of global incomes, Kenny’s “great news” is that

Even most countries that have seen per capita income decline over the past thirty years have seen health, education and civil rights observance considerably improve. This is the greatest success of development. The last century has seen a dramatic (and literal) decline in the cost of living.

Take child health, for example. No country in the World saw much more than ninety percent of children survive their first year of life in 1900. The United States saw an infant mortality rate of nearly fifteen percent. This was despite an income per capita that was one of the highest in the World at the time --a little above $4,000 measured in today’s dollars. It did not matter how rich a child’s parents, the state of health technology placed a significant upper limit on an infant’s chance of survival. Today, the country with the highest recorded infant mortality in the World is Sierra Leone. That mortality rate is seventeen percent --only two percent higher than the rate in the US a century earlier. Yet income per person in Sierra Leone has dipped as low as $404 in the recent past – or one tenth the level of the United States a century ago. Countries as poor and wretched as Haiti, Burma and the Congo have infant mortality rates today that are lower than any country in the World achieved in 1900.

The Success of Development will be up until the end of this month (perhaps a spike in hits will encourage him to leave it up a tad longer?) and I’d recommend people to take a look.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.