During the 20th century, Vietnam and Poland were both victims not only of devastating wars, but also of socialist planned economies that destroyed whatever war hadn’t already. In 1990, Vietnam was still one of the poorest countries in the world, while Poland was one of the poorest in Europe. But in the three decades since then, both countries have drastically improved their citizens’ standards of living and escaped the vicious cycle of national poverty.
In this book, Rainer Zitelmann identifies the reasons behind the sensational growth of both nations’ economies, drawing out the lessons that other countries can learn from these two success stories. To explain the source of their success, he returns to Adam Smith’s 1776 treatise, The Wealth of Nations: the only way to overcome poverty is through economic growth, Smith wrote, and economic freedom is the crucial prerequisite for such growth.
Developments over the past 250 years have proved Smith right. The market economy has led to a global decline in poverty unparalleled in human history. Compare this to the fifty years of “development aid” in Africa that have only entrenched the status quo, and it is clear which approach yields superior results.
Despite these strides, almost ten percent of the world’s population still lives in extreme poverty. So, what measures actually help to alleviate poverty today? Through a wealth of data and stories from the everyday lives of Polish and Vietnamese people who experienced reforms, Zitelmann demonstrates the persistent relevance of Smith’s ideas to economic flourishing in the 21st century.