… is from page 313 of the 2016 second edition of Thomas Sowell’s excellent volume Wealth, Poverty and Politics (footnote deleted):
As regards the more general question of economic differences among nations today, all too often the question posed is much like that in a well-known study, Why Nations Fail: “Why is Egypt so much poorer than the United States? What are the constraints that keep Egyptians from becoming more prosperous?” This implicitly treats what happens in the United States as a sort of norm, as what happens usually or more or less naturally, leaving the question as to why this usual, normal or natural development has been thwarted somehow in Egypt. But Egypt may be more typical of what has happened around the world, and over the centuries, than is the United States.
In a wider view of the history of the human race since its beginnings, the entire species was very poor, primitive and densely ignorant for more than 90 percent of its existence. The decisive innovation of agriculture, within the las 5 percent or so of the existence of the human species, opened up vast new possibilities for creating cities, civilizations and the progress in many dimensions that has been built on that foundation. As we have seen, that progress was never equally accessible to all people in all geographic locations or equally sought by all cultures, much less equally compatible with all social conditions or political systems.
It is not poverty that needs to be explained but what combinations of circumstances come together in particular places and times to enable economic progress to take place.
It wasn’t by happenstance that Adam Smith titled his 1776 book An Inquiry Into the Nature and CAUSES OF THE WEALTH of Nations rather than An Inquiry Into the Nature and CAUSES OF THE POVERTY of Nations.