Why are the countries with the longest civilizations, like China, Iraq, Egypt, and India, generally poorer per capita?
Gary Allen, Trying to keep current is exhausting.
That poverty is a widespread condition in these areas where the oldest civilizations first developed is true, at present, but there are strong indications that change is underway which will correct that. The thousands of years which these senior civilizations have remained on their territories means that dense populations have harvested many crops, which has led to the impoverishment of the soil. Being the first to arrive at complex societies meant that these areas made mistakes which no one had enough information to understand and resolve.
Egypt's prosperity throughout the ancient kingdoms was largely due to the annual flooding of the Nile. After all, Egypt's surplus grain fed the Romans for a couple of hundred years. In recent times, the building of the Aswan High Dam has blocked so much of the Nile's flow that the valley soil is less rich and the Delta is beginning to sink back into the Mediterranean Sea in places from the lack of renewing silt.
Iraq is in a largely hot, desert climate and only the widespread use of irrigation allowed it to prosper and maintain large populations. Irrigation is a short-term solution, and the lands in Iraq have fallen useless for periods of time, because irrigation ultimately poisons the soil with metals. After a hundred years or so, the soil has then been reclaimed and re-irrigated time and again. Iraq, like Egypt, has such deep problems with a functioning government that people today are suffering, even with the influx of oil wealth, but there is no reason to believe this cannot be overcome again.
India has been a highly productive land with a dense population for a very long time, but its success in producing more food during the 20th century has also led to a huge ballooning of its population. If India can continue as a democracy, it is likely to make wise enough decisions to outlive this swelling of the population; then, as future generations arise, a rational limiting of the birth rate will allow everyone to live a well-fed, decent life.
China has had a river problem, too, but in China's case it was at least three major rivers which flooded frequently--to great benefit in the growing of rice and other cereals, but with frequent damage and loss of life. China has suffered during the 19th and 20th centuries from foreign interference in its own government, and then when it did reunify, has suffered from mismanagement by a rigid and authoritarian system which destroyed almost as much as it built.
The sooner each of these cultural regions finds sustainable solutions to their problems of overuse and overpopulation, the sooner they will put poverty behind them.
Ahhaan Badhwar, Indian learning about China