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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

3 MYTHS THAT BLOCK PROGRESS FOR THE POOR 01-21



3 MYTHS THAT BLOCK PROGRESS FOR THE POOR

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 poverty and disease, isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful. 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 ONE
POOR COUNTRIES ARE DOOMED TO STAY POOR
by Bill Gates
I’ve heard this myth stated about lots of places, but most often about Africa. A quick Web search will turn up dozens of headlines and book titles such as How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor.

Thankfully these books are not bestsellers, because the basic premise is false. The fact is, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa.

So why is this myth so deeply ingrained?

I’ll get to Africa in a moment, but first let’s look at the broader trend around the world, going back a half-century. Fifty years ago, the world was divided in three: the United States and our Western allies; the Soviet Union and its allies; and everyone else. I was born in 1955 and grew up learning that the so-called First World was well off or “developed.” Most everyone in the First World went to school, and we lived long lives. We weren't sure what life was like behind the Iron Curtain, but it sounded like a scary place. Then there was the so-called Third World—basically everyone else. As far as we knew, it was filled with people who were poor, didn't go to school much, and died young. Worse, they were trapped in poverty, with no hope of moving up.

By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.
Bill Gates

The statistics bear out these impressions. In 1960, almost all of the global economy was in the West. Per capita income in the United States was about $15,000 a year.1 (That’s income per person, so $60,000 a year for a family of four.) Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, incomes per person were far lower. Brazil: $1,982. China: $928. Botswana: $383. And so on.


Years later, I would see this disparity myself when I traveled. Melinda and I visited Mexico City in 1987 and were surprised by the poverty we witnessed. There was no running water in most homes, so we saw people trekking long distances by bike or on foot to fill up water jugs. It reminded us of scenes we had seen in rural Africa. The guy who ran Microsoft’s Mexico City office would send his kids back to the United States for checkups to make sure the smog wasn’t making them sick.
Today, the city is mind-blowingly different. Its air is as clean as Los Angeles’ (which isn’t great, but certainly an improvement from 1987). There are high-rise buildings, new roads, and modern bridges. There are still slums and pockets of poverty, but by and large when I visit there now I think, “Wow, most people who live here are middle-class. What a miracle.”
Look at the photo of Mexico City from 1986, and compare it to one from 2011.




You can see a similar transformation in these before-and-after photos of Nairobi and Shanghai.