You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, and that people would rush to figure out what is working so well and do more of it. But they’re not, at least not in proportion to the progress. In fact, I’m struck by how few people think the world is improving, and by how many actually think the opposite—that it is getting worse.
I believe this is partly because many people are in the grip of several myths—mistaken ideas that defy the facts. The most damaging myths are that the poor will remain poor, that efforts to help them are wasted, and that saving lives will only make things worse.
I understand why people might hold these negative views. This is what they see in the news. Bad news happens in dramatic events that are easy for reporters to cover: Famine suddenly strikes a country, or a dictator takes over someplace. Good news—at least the kind of good news that I have in mind—happens in slow motion. Countries are getting richer, but it’s hard to capture that on video. Health is improving, but there’s no press conference for children who did not die of malaria.
?The belief that the world is getting worse, that we can’t solve extreme poverty and disease, isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful. It can stall progress. It makes efforts to solve these problems seem pointless. It blinds us to the opportunity we have to create a world where almost everyone has a chance to prosper.
If people think the best times are in the past, they can get pessimistic and long for a return to the good old days. If they think the best times are in the future, they see things differently. When science historian James Burke wrote about the Renaissance in The Day the Universe Changed, he pointed to one source for many of the advances that happened in that amazing period: the shift from the belief that everything was decaying and getting worse to the realization that people can create and discover and make things better. We need a similar shift today, if we’re going to take full advantage of the opportunity to improve life for everyone.
Here is a link to the full report.
Apart from its deep pockets the Gates Foundation sets itself apart by exuding a sense of optimism that the problems affecting large portions of the global population can be solved within our lifetimes. The rise of China and India has already lifted a billion people out of abject poverty and improving governance is likely to achieve a similar feat in the next decade for even more countries.
Rather than speak about the development of the middle class it might be better to think about the evolution of the disposable income demographic. People on a subsistence living do not have enough money for food not to mind anything else. Important things start to happen when someone moves from $1 a day to $2 a day. One of the first things people buy is soap. There is probably nothing more affordable and revolutionary than soap in improving one’s personal hygiene and therefore life expectancy. As incomes improve so does the quality of food and products consumed and as a result so do living standards. With the advent of disposable income savings are possible. With savings comes credit.
The growth of the global consumer continues to represent a secular growth story for related companies. The declining price of energy represents a powerful enabler while access to technology represents the possibility of higher productivity.
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