There was a piece in the Economist last week that looked at an OECD / University of Utrecht account of the conditions of life in 25 countries since 1820. A part of this says:
For the most part, the findings confirm what is suspected, if not known in such detail. The number of years in education has increased everywhere. Average heights have risen almost everywhere (by 1.1cm more in America in 1820-1990 than in China). The purchasing power of construction workers’ wages has grown everywhere, though in Britain the rise was tenfold in 1820-2000; in Indonesia it was only twice.
Income inequality is different, the Economist notes:
You would expect that the world of the Qing dynasty, Tsar Nicholas I and the British East India Company would be more unequal than today’s. Yet in China, Thailand, Germany and Egypt, income inequality was about the same in 2000 as it had been in 1820. Brazil and Mexico are even more unequal than they were at the time of Simón Bolívar. Only in a few rich nations — such as France and Japan — do you find the expected long-term decline in income inequality.
The Economist article explores the detail of this, and the reasons for it. It distinguishes between disparities within countries, and those between them, and concludes that it is the latter which have contributed most to the rise of global income inequality. It summarises this in sharp fashion:
"The driving force of inequality since 1820 ... has been industrialisation in the West."
There is probably much in the OECD / University of Utrecht report for those interested in sustainability and global whateveritis. Meanwhile, there is this:
"For the poor shall never cease out of the land." Deuteronomy 15 11