Gates on 3 myths that block progress for the poor

January 26th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

writes:

By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.

Myth 1 – POOR COUNTRIES ARE DOOMED TO STAY POOR

The global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn in my lifetime. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man’s-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others. Since 1960, China’s real income per person has gone up eightfold. India’s has quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population.

Botswana has a huge focus on education and fights corruption actively. And progress is not just in Asia:

First, don’t let anyone tell you that Africa is worse off today than it was 50 years ago. Income per person has in fact risen in sub-Saharan Africa over that time, and quite a bit in a few countries. After plummeting during the debt crisis of the 1980s, it has climbed by two thirds since 1998, to nearly $2,200 from just over $1,300. Today, more and more countries are turning toward strong sustained development, and more will follow. Seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the past half-decade are in Africa.

Africa has also made big strides in health and education. Since 1960, the life span for women in sub-Saharan Africa has gone up from 41 to 57 years, despite the HIV epidemic. Without HIV it would be 61 years. The percentage of children in school has gone from the low 40s to over 75 percent since 1970. Fewer people are hungry, and more people have good nutrition. If getting enough to eat, going to school, and living longer are measures of a good life, then life is definitely getting better there. These improvements are not the end of the story; they’re the foundation for more progress.

Myth 2 – FOREIGN AID IS A BIG WASTE

It also helps to look at the overall impact this spending has. To get a rough figure, I added up all the money spent by donors on health-related aid since 1980. Then I divided by the number of children’s deaths that have been prevented in that same time. It comes to less than $5,000 per child saved (and that doesn’t include the improvements in health that go beyond saving the lives of young children).5 $5,000 may sound expensive, but keep in mind that U.S. government agencies typically value the life of an American at several million dollars.

Also remember that healthy children do more than merely survive. They go to school and eventually work, and over time they make their countries more self-sufficient. This is why I say aid is such a bargain.

And some things foreign aid has helped achieve:

  • 440 million children vaccinated
  • 2.5 billion children immunised against polio
  • 11.2 million cases of TB detected and treated
  • 360 million insecticide treated bed nets distributed

Also:

Second, the “aid breeds dependency” argument misses all the countries that have graduated from being aid recipients, and focuses only on the most difficult remaining cases. Here is a quick list of former major recipients that have grown so much that they receive hardly any aid today: Botswana, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Thailand, Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia. South Korea received enormous amounts of aid after the Korean War, and is now a net donor. China is also a net aid donor and funds a lot of science to help developing countries. India receives 0.09 percent of its GDP in aid, down from 1 percent in 1991.

Myth 3 – SAVING LIVES LEADS TO OVERPOPULATION

Going back at least to Thomas Malthus, who published his An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, people have worried about doomsday scenarios in which food supply can’t keep up with population growth. …

When children survive in greater numbers, parents decide to have smaller families. Consider Thailand. Around 1960, child mortality started going down. Then, around 1970, after the government invested in a strong family planning program, birth rates started to drop. In the course of just two decades, Thai women went from having an average of six children to an average of two. Today, child mortality in Thailand is almost as low as it is in the United States, and Thai women have an average of 1.6 children.

And:

Because most countries—with exceptions in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—have now gone through this transition, the global population is growing more slowly every year. As Hans Rosling, a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and one of my favorite data geeks, said, “The amount of children in the world today is probably the most there will be! We are entering into the age of the Peak Child!”

Peak Child – I like it.

Gates summarises:

If you read the news every day, it’s easy to get the impression that the world is getting worse. There is nothing inherently wrong with focusing on bad news, of course—as long as you get it in context. Melinda and I are disgusted by the fact that more than six million children died last year. But we are motivated by the fact that this number is the lowest ever recorded. We want to make sure it keeps going down.

A really good open letter.

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17 Responses to “Gates on 3 myths that block progress for the poor”

  1. Bob (497 comments) says:

    I have two comments.

    1. The Christian religions have tried to tell us the world will never prosper if God is left out. That was the message I got at a Catholic school. Yet worldwide people are doing better while religion is declining. If anything religion and superstition are a yoke coming off their necks.

    2. I recommend watching a well presented BBC documentary on YouTube –

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mz_kn45qIvI

    It shows how the standard of living has progressed over the last 50 years. Girls are no longer prepared to marry young. They want an education and a life. Improved medical services mean they don’t have high child mortality rates. They have fewer children knowing they won’t lose them like they used to.

    While not without problems the future for the world looks fairly rosy.

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  2. Keeping Stock (10,443 comments) says:

    Gates has had a very willing partner in Rotary International. Rotary Clubs throughout the world donate to the Rotary Foundation, which set as one of its goals some years ago the eradication of polio, for which they were gently mocked. But the partnership has proved its worth, the incidence of polio has been reduced by a staggering 99%, and India, one of the worst-affected countries has not had a new case of polio since 2011. That is a fantastic achievement.

    http://www.endpolio.org/

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  3. Keeping Stock (10,443 comments) says:

    @ Bob – with regard to your first comment, the Christian church is growing at its fastest in sub-Saharan Africa, and in China. The church is anything but declining in the third world; only in the first world where too many of us are too comfortable to get off our backsides and do anything to help.

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  4. Yoza (1,914 comments) says:

    Bill Gates:

    Today there are only three countries left that have never been polio-free: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Last year the global health community adopted a comprehensive plan aimed at getting the world polio-free by 2018, and dozens of donors stepped up to fund it. Once we get rid of polio, the world will save about $2 billion a year that it now spends fighting the disease.

    Bill Gates should add his signature to the letter condemning the CIA’s use of a hoax polio vaccination charity in Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden:

    In September Save the Children was forced by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) to withdraw all foreign national staff. This action was apparently the result of CIA having used the cover of a fictional vaccination campaign to gather information about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. In fact, Save the Children never employed the Pakistani physician serving the CIA, yet in the eyes of the GoP he was associated with the organization. This past month, eight or more United Nations health workers who were vaccinating Pakistani children against polio were gunned down in unforgivable acts of terrorism. While political and security agendas may by necessity induce collateral damage, we as an open society set boundaries on these damages, and we believe this sham vaccination campaign exceeded those boundaries.

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  5. wat dabney (3,814 comments) says:

    Bill Gates should add his signature to the letter condemning the CIA’s use of a hoax polio vaccination charity in Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden

    The CIA shouldn’t be allowed to employ ruses to catch sociopathic mass-murderers, should it Yoza.

    And the CIA is therefore entirely responsible if Muslim terrorists then go about murdering entirely innocent aid workers.

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  6. seanmaitland (501 comments) says:

    are the figures inflation adjusted?

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  7. WineOh (633 comments) says:

    As an aside, I think it is very interesting how Bill Gates has totally transformed the world view of himself from Robber-Baron & arch-nemesis of the world … into a global champion of foreign aid. Of course it helps that he has contributed billions of his own money into it… but hey, after your first billion dollars how much richer do you need to be?

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  8. Yoza (1,914 comments) says:

    wat dabney (3,246 comments) says:
    January 26th, 2014 at 9:15 am

    The CIA shouldn’t be allowed to employ ruses to catch sociopathic mass-murderers, should it Yoza.

    Not if those ruses compromise the safety of aid workers attempting to eradicate a dangerous disease like polio. The threat posed by infectious disease is greater than that posed by terrorism. The US’s clandestine programs run in countries like Pakistan have the effect of increasing terrorist activity.

    And the CIA is therefore entirely responsible if Muslim terrorists then go about murdering entirely innocent aid workers.

    Those who killed the aid workers were responsible for the deaths. However, the CIA would have been aware that a predictable consequence of using the ruse of a charity to infiltrate bin Laden’s compound would have led to aid workers being targeted by terrorist groups. Osama bin Laden was a marginal figure by the time he was killed and his connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks was tenuous to non-existent – he was a boogey-man summarily executed in a White House PR exercise.

    Aid workers prevent terrorism whereas the US’s extrajudicial killings exacerbate the threat of terrorism.

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  9. Harriet (5,145 comments) says:

    “…..To get a rough figure, I added up all the money spent by donors on health-related aid since 1980. Then I divided by the number of children’s deaths…’

    That’s about 20% of aid. The other 80% is mostly wasted.

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  10. seanmaitland (501 comments) says:

    @Bob – I went to three different Catholic schools and not once was it taught that the world won’t prosper without God. I’ve never heard this in Church either, after 35 years of it. You are making up rubbish.

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  11. wat dabney (3,814 comments) says:

    Osama bin Laden was a marginal figure by the time he was killed and his connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks was tenuous to non-existent – he was a boogey-man summarily executed in a White House PR exercise.

    Similarly, after the war all those thousands of former Nazi butcherers should have simply been allowed to quietly disappear and enjoy comfortable retirements shouldn’t they Yoza. After all, they were not even ‘marginal’ once Germany had been defeated and they had scarpered. It was all a big PR exercise.

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  12. Harriet (5,145 comments) says:

    “…Girls are no longer prepared to marry young. They want an education and a life. Improved medical services mean they don’t have high child mortality rates. They have fewer children knowing they won’t lose them like they used to…”

    Yes that has much to do with the decline of religion – but moreso in the advances in medicine.

    Yet, now we are seeing the rise of a new area of medicine, the area that specialises in fertility where women are treated for making their fertility difficult because they have delayed it for ‘social reasons’ – an education and a life – as you ironicly put it bob!

    Most women would achieve more in life if they were Married at a reasonbly young age and shared the nessecery expenses and work of living with a husband. They can then also work till 60 or 70 if they wish to. And/or retire in a freehold house. Travel also. No women is expected to have four or five kids. Most want about two.

    Most young women now have a demanding job and no kids.

    And most infant girls now have a low paid young career playing mum – the liberal women’s slave class.

    Womenhood is disapearing. Maleness is becoming the norm.

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  13. Yoza (1,914 comments) says:

    wat dabney (3,247 comments) says:
    January 26th, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Similarly, after the war all those thousands of former Nazi butcherers should have simply been allowed to quietly disappear and enjoy comfortable retirements shouldn’t they Yoza. After all, they were not even ‘marginal’ once Germany had been defeated and they had scarpered. It was all a big PR exercise.

    !?

    Many were, many of those with the help of US intelligence agencies:

    Gerald Steinacher: It was very difficult, because I realized some historians had focused on individual aspects of this larger topic. For example, some U.S. historians focused on the intelligence history: why the U.S. intelligence services, the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) and the CIA used or recycled some of these war criminals and/or SS officers to fight the new enemy, the communist Soviet Union. So some historians, especially in the U.S., focused on this aspect.

    I do not think of Osama bin Laden as some kind of innocent victim. I do think he should have been brought to trial rather than summarily executed by a US military death-squad. The killing of Osama bin Laden, destroying the ability of aid agencies to carry out important health programs and the ongoing drone strikes are not means of fighting terrorism, they are a means of promoting terrorism.

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  14. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    Yes, the CIA does bad things.

    No, Bill Gates is under no obligation to incur the wrath of bad people and put his good work in jeopardy.

    There. Move the fuck on.

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  15. wat dabney (3,814 comments) says:

    The most telling thing about Bill Gates and Warren Buffet spending their tens of billions to help the poor is that they don’t hand it to the government. They know it’d be pissed away on criminal regimes and politicised NGOs, all of whom have an interest in keeping the gravy-train going.

    So stop any and all government foreign aid programs and let good people like these – and hundreds of millions of ordinary people – give directly.

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  16. Psycho Milt (2,419 comments) says:

    Womenhood is disapearing

    Well, the kind of womanhood that followers of patriarchal religions like is disappearing, maybe – but that’s a good thing.

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  17. Yoza (1,914 comments) says:

    wat dabney (3,249 comments) says:
    January 26th, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    The most telling thing about Bill Gates and Warren Buffet spending their tens of billions to help the poor is that they don’t hand it to the government. They know it’d be pissed away on criminal regimes and politicised NGOs, all of whom have an interest in keeping the gravy-train going.

    So stop any and all government foreign aid programs and let good people like these – and hundreds of millions of ordinary people – give directly.

    “That’s why in this year’s letter we take apart some of the myths that slow down the work. The next time you hear these myths, we hope you will do the same.
    – Bill Gates

    MYTH TWO
    FOREIGN AID IS A BIG WASTE

    You may have read news articles about foreign aid that are filled with big generalizations based on small examples. They tend to cite anecdotes about waste in some program and suggest that foreign aid is a waste. If you hear enough of these stories, it’s easy to get the impression that aid just doesn’t work.

    Since Melinda and I started the foundation 14 years ago, we’ve been lucky enough to go see the impact of programs funded by the foundation and donor governments. What we see over time is people living longer, getting healthier, and escaping poverty, partly because of services that aid helped develop and deliver.

    I worry about the myth that aid doesn’t work. It gives political leaders an excuse to try to cut back on it—and that would mean fewer lives are saved, and more time before countries can become self-sufficient.

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