"Two hundred years ago the idea that we could potentially achieve the end of extreme poverty would have been unimaginable. Just about everybody was poor, with the exception of a very small minority of rulers and large landowners. Life was as difficult in much of Europe as it was in India or China. Our great-great grandparents were, with very few exceptions, most likely poor and living on a farm. One leading economic historian, Angus Maddison, puts the average income per person in Western Europe in 1820 at around 90 percent of the average income of Africa today. Life expectancy in Western Europe and Japan as of 1800 was about 40 years.
A few centuries ago, vast divides in wealth and poverty around the world did not exist. China, India, Europe, and Japan all had similar income levels at the time of European discoveries of the sea routes to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Marco Polo marveled at the sumptuous wonders of China, not at its poverty. Cortes and his conquistadores expressed astonishment at the riches of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs. The early Portuguese explorers were impressed with the well-ordered towns of West Africa."
From the book, "The End of Poverty"