Saturday, 25 January 2014 00:00
Bill Gates should know a thing or two about poverty; after all he has spent a large chunk of his income in combating it over many years. Revered as one of the world’s greatest philanthropists, when he talks about poverty everyone listens.
The Microsoft founder, who has run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the last number of years, released the foundation’s annual letter, in which he argues against the three “myths” that he says block progress for poor people. In it he insists that believing poverty cannot be solved is not only wrong, it is dangerous because then people might just stop trying.
Going on to talk about the three myths of poverty, Gates dismisses the idea that poor countries are doomed to remain poor and takes the example of Mexico as a nation that has changed this fate. He points to improvements in infant mortality rates, as well as the dramatic overhaul of Mexico City as evidence that aid works, calling the Mexican capital a “miracle”.
Gates goes on to make an iconic prediction saying by 2035 there will be no more “poor countries” left in the world. The fact that large parts of the world has emerged from this status over the last few decades and almost all will leave it virtually within Gates’ lifetime is understandably a phenomenal achievement for the human race.
By Gates’ estimation almost all countries that are now called lower-middle income or richer, including Sri Lanka will see remarkable change. Countries will learn from their most productive neighbors and benefit from innovations like new vaccines, better seeds, and the digital revolution. Their labor forces, buoyed by expanded education, will attract new investments.
Poor in this case means low-income, by the World Bank’s current definition: any country with a gross national income per capita of $1,035 or less in 2012 dollars. There are 36 such countries in the world today. But according to Gates they have great things ahead.
Outside of countries like North Korea and Haiti every nation in South America, Asia, and Central America, and most in coastal Africa, will have joined the ranks of today’s middle- income nations. More than 70% of countries will have a higher per-person income than China does today. Nearly 90% will have a higher income than India does today. However, there will be inequality, which means there will still be poor countries and governments, especially governments in developed countries have a massive responsibility in ensuring that aid to poorer countries continue and specifically aim at poverty.
Melinda Gates has insisted saving lives will not lead to overpopulation of the world. For those who are callous enough to think so she argues that poor people will not have large numbers of children if the opportunities for their children to be healthy and have good opportunities is assured. She believes creating societies where people enjoy basic health, relative prosperity, fundamental equality, and access to contraceptives is the only way to secure a sustainable world.
What all this boils down to is that within the next two decades everyone, including the people of Sri Lanka, has the historic opportunity to end poverty, inequality and suffering. The Gates Foundation is expected to have given away the entire Gates fortune of around $67 billion (an amount larger than the entire Sri Lankan economy) by the time the couple has been dead for 20 years. Everyone will not be able to contribute at that level but it is possible to do our bit.