Ideas to Action:

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The 2000s Were the Best Decade Ever? Development Optimist Charles Kenny

12/21/10

Charles KennyMany of us may be glad to be rid of the Naughts, a decade perhaps destined to be remembered for global terrorism, U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a global financial crisis that threatened a second Great Depression but left the rich world instead with a lingering Great Recession. My guest this week argues that the departing decade is unfairly maligned. Charles Kenny recently joined the Center for Global Development as a senior fellow. In a piece published in Foreign Policy magazine, he argues that the 2000s were the best decade in history.

Charles spends the first part of our conversation trying to convince me that this bold thesis is backed by hard facts. Looking at indicators of child mortality, absolute poverty, literacy, armed conflict, and more, Charles sees improvement nearly across the board. "If you had the choice in which decade to be born,” he concludes, “there is only one decade you could choose, and it's this one."

The key to this progress is innovation—technological and otherwise—which, so far, has allowed global wellbeing to stay a step or two ahead of climate change and other threats. We discuss some of the key innovations and new ideas just now taking hold (some of which were included in Charles’ list of “Good Ideas for Bad Times,” published in the current issue of Foreign Policy. From LED lighting, to social marketing campaigns, to direct cash transfers to the poor, Charles says there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the coming decade as well.

Listen to the Wonkcast for a full dose of contrarian end-of-the-year cheer. And watch for Charles’ forthcoming book, Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding—And How We Can Improve the World Even More, which will be published in March 2011. Have something to add? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below, or send me an email. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.

My thanks to Wren Elhai for his production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for drafting this blog post.