Meanwhile, In the Lives of Hundreds of Millions of Asians…

While our social-media feeds and cable-news crawls were inundating us with news of the latest bombing, beheading, armed clash, plane crash, and viral epidemic, this was happening, too:

Rural wages are rising across much of Asia, and in some cases have accelerated since the mid 2000s. And they are doing so fast (and getting faster)… Doubling in China in the last decade, tripling or quadrupling in Vietnam. A bit slower in Bangladesh, but still up by half. This really matters because landless rural people are bottom of the heap (72% of Asia’s extreme poor are rural—some 687m people in 2008), so what they can pick up from their casual labour is a key determinant of poverty, or the lack of it. Steve argues that if the trend continues (and it looks like it will) this spells ‘the end of mass (extreme) poverty in Asia’.

That quote comes from a recent post by Duncan Green for his From Poverty to Power blog. The emphasis is mine. The Steve referenced in the last line is economist Steve Wiggins, co-author with Sharada Keats of a new report, on rural wages in Asia, from which those findings flow.

The good news from this report doesn’t stop in Asia. As Green also summarizes, higher rural wages in many Asian countries are driving up wages from manufacturing and increasing the costs of food production. Those trends should help tilt comparative advantage in food production and low-wage manufacturing toward Africa and lower-income parts of Asia. As that happens, the prospects for similar transformations occurring in those areas should improve, too.

There is no shortage of catastrophes in the world right now, and climate change runs under the whole thing like a fault line that’s started trembling with peak intensity and consequences still unknown. Meanwhile, though, most people in most parts of the world are quietly going about the business of trying to make their own lives a little bit better. And, apparently, many of them are succeeding. We shouldn’t let the incessant flow of bad news obscure our view of the larger system. This report is yet another indication that, at that level, some important things are still trending positive in spite of all the terrible things we more easily observe.

Leave a comment


  1. socialdee

     /  October 10, 2014

    Great news! Thank you

  2. Terrace4

     /  October 11, 2014

    I suspect similar gains won’t be seen in Africa because its high birth rate will spread whatever economic growth there is across increasingly too many people.

    • But high birth rates were recently typical in many of those Asian countries, too. A rapid decline in birth rates is clearly a crucial part of the process that produces these gains, but that decline seems to be endogenous to the transformation, not a prerequisite for it.

      • You say “high birth rate” I say “demographic dividend”, let’s call the whole thing off…

        Good piece, btw, Jay…I’m a sucker for slow-burn phenomenon news.

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