Escaping the poverty trap

That elusive goal may now be in sight. The statistics coming out of Bangladesh make the point. In spite of dysfunctional politics, the country’s poor are finding a way out.

Income per capita has more than tripled in the last 20 years. Over the same period life expectancy has grown from 59 to 69 years, now four years ahead of its wealthier neighbors India and Pakistan. Infant mortality has plummeted, while female literacy rates, for a long time among the lowest in the region, at 77% now exceed both India (74%) and Pakistan (61%).

Empowering women, giving them control of their fertility as well as family finances, are the factors attributed for the remarkable turnaround of a country that Henry Kissinger once called a development “basket case”.

This success strategy is borne out in research conducted by Esther Duflo, the co-author of “Poor Economics”, in Bangladesh and other parts of the world.

There are a group of developing countries, including some of the poorest, that share the “demographic dividend” that is a part of Bangladesh’s potential. The median age, at 23.3 years, is low. Declining fertility rates mean that people in the workforce of the future will far exceed dependents at both ends of the age spectrum. The window of opportunity is a relatively short one. It’s realization is dependent on whether equal opportunity exists. The best, regardless of background, should be allowed to achieve their potential, especially for education.

China, the current economic growth champion, with its hukou system that discriminates against rural migrants is exposed.

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The real deal