History is a story of literal and figurative darkness. Jonah Goldberg puts it this way on page 6 of his 2018 book Suicide of the West: “The natural state of mankind is grinding poverty punctuated by horrific violence terminating with an early death. It was like this for a very, very long time.”
Not so any longer. By virtually any measure, there has never been a better time to be alive. As Deirdre McCloskey argues in her “Bourgeois Era” trilogy and as she and I argue in this 2016 paper and this 2018 paper, things have never been so good.
The most powerful thing governments could do to transform lives would cost next to nothing at all: embrace freer trade. During the past 25 years, China lifted 680 million people out of poverty through trade, and there are similar stories from Indonesia, Chile and others. Genuine, global free trade would have benefits that would reach every single country. Far more than any aid dished out by donor countries, lowering trade barriers is the most powerful way to reduce extreme poverty. A completed global Doha trade deal would make the world $US11 trillion richer each and every year by 2030 according to research considered by the Nobel laureates.