Imagine you were given the spotlight on one of the world’s most influential stages.
What would you say? What ideas would you share? What stories would the audience hear?
Here’s the big question: how would that audience react?
One man was recently given that moment on the stage. Dr. Arthur Brooks, a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, spoke at a TED event about a pretty big topic: how to end global poverty.
TED is a nonprofit that has spent the last 30 years dedicated to spreading ideas. Their TED Talks series have been viewed more than 1 billion times.
Brooks did not hold back in his talk. He spent his 14 minutes on-stage laying out the causes of poverty and the solutions that work. The video is below, but here’s a short snippet of what Dr. Brooks shared:
If you ask Americans, “Has poverty gotten worse or better around the world?”, 70 percent will say that hunger has gotten worse since the early 1970s. But here’s the truth. Here’s the epiphany that I had that changed my thinking. From 1970 until today, the percentage of the world’s population living in starvation levels, living on a dollar a day or less, obviously adjusted for inflation, that percentage has declined by 80 percent. There’s been an 80 percent decline in the world’s worst poverty since I was a kid. And I didn’t even know about it. This, my friends, that’s a miracle. That’s something we ought to celebrate. It’s the greatest antipoverty achievement in the history of mankind, and it happened in our lifetimes.
So when I learned this, I asked, what did that? What made it possible? Because if you don’t know why, you can’t do it again. If you want to replicate it and get the next two billion people out of poverty, because that’s what we’re talking about: since I was a kid, two billion of the least of these, our brothers and sisters, have been pulled out of poverty. I want the next two billion, so I’ve got to know why. And I went in search of an answer. And it wasn’t a political answer, because I didn’t care. You know what, I still don’t care. I wanted the best answer from mainstream economists left, right and center.
And here it is. Here are the reasons. There are five reasons that two billion of our brothers and sisters have been pulled out of poverty since I was a kid. Number one: globalization. Number two: free trade. Number three: property rights. Number four: rule of law. Number five: entrepreneurship. It was the free enterprise system spreading around the world after 1970 that did that.
Great ideas, but how did the audience react to Brooks’ words?
TED does this really cool thing where users can peg certain talks with keywords. So a talk could end up being “fascinating”, “jaw-dropping”, or even “longwinded”.
Among the 265,150 views the talk has gotten so far, a jaw-dropping 32% said it was “inspiring”. The next highest keywords were “persuasive” and “informative”.
And down at the bottom, only 2% found the talk “obnoxious”. If someone thinks it’s obnoxious to talk about a) helping the poor and b) free markets, that probably says more about the reviewer than the speaker.
Brooks went on to talk about the solution to the hyper-partisanship that has overshadowed American politics in the last few years:
If you’re a conservative, be the conservative who is always going on about poverty and the moral obligation to be a warrior for the poor. And if you’re a liberal, be a liberal who is always talking about the beauty of free markets to solve our problems when we use them responsibly.
If we do that, we get two things. Number one: we get to start to work on the next two billion and be the solution that we’ve seen so much of in the past and we need to see more of in the future. That’s what we get. And the second is that we might just be able to take the ghastly holy war of ideology that we’re suffering under in this country and turn it into a competition of ideas based on solidarity and mutual respect. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll all realize that our big differences aren’t really that big after all.
Brooks went on to share other action items to make a difference — a real impact — to bring the next two billion people out of poverty. What are they? You’ll just have to watch below to find out: