As the income gap between developed and developing nations grows, so grows the cacophony of voices claiming that the quest to find a simple recipe for economic growth has failed. Getting Better, in sharp contrast, reports the good news about global progress. The book doesn’t neglect the “bad news” (diverging incomes) or the “worse news” (the difficulty to raise growth rates) but focuses particularly on the “good, the better and the great” news about development. The first bit of good news in this book being that there is little evidence that growing populations condemn a country to a declining standard of living. Looking at Africa in particular, where populations continue to expand, he claims that there is no link between population growth to declining income and mortality rates. Even if the institutions that are central to per capita growth develop slowly, the technologies required for greater output spread quickly. This is enough to prevent widespread and recurring famine.
The next bit of good news regarding development is, according to Kenny, rapid and ubiquitous global improvement in quality of life. Since 1960, global average infant mortality has more than halved; and the vast majority of this improvement occurred in developing countries. Countries in every region of the World, from the poorest to the richest, with stagnant or vibrant economies, have all seen improvements in average levels of health and education over the past half century. Most countries, regardless of economic performance, have seen forward strides in gender equality, as well as civil and political rights. Also, progress in quality of life has been particularly rapid in countries previously the furthest behind.
As suggested by the global reach of improvements in quality of life, income growth has not been a requirement for improvements in health, education or civil rights. Even in countries that have seen per capita income decline over the past thirty years, health, education and civil rights observance considerably improved. This is the greatest success of development. The last century has seen a dramatic decline in the cost of living. Just take the example of child health: 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.
Kenny argues against development naysayers by pointing to the evidence of all kinds of widespread improvements in health, education, peace, and liberty. Lives are getting better everywhere: people are healthier, live longer, lose fewer children, learn to read and write, and have more rights than before.He finally shows how the spread of not only cheap technologies, such as vaccines and bed nets, but also ideas, such as political rights, has transformed the world into a better place.