Bill and Melinda’s Statement on Development by the Numbers: Hubris

Last week Bill and Melinda Gate’s annual letter on poverty and aid came out and not only is it a good short read, but it’s increasingly becoming more important.  In my hubris I have decided to give an analysis of the letter blow-by-blow.

By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world. Yes, a few unhappy countries will be held back by war, political realities (such as North Korea) or geography (such as landlocked states in central Africa). But every country in South America, Asia and Central America (except perhaps Haiti) and most in coastal Africa will have become middle-income nations. More than 70% of countries will have a higher per-person income than China does today.

True, most countries are growing and this is cause for celebration.  Too often however the development field falls victim to either exuberant optimism or too much doom and gloom so perhaps a more balanced view is in order.  Since there will always be unforeseen disasters either political or environmental I would place estimates at 40 years and not 20.

This is especially true when using China as a benchmark.  To reach the same levels as China, Kenya for example, would have to grow at 8% per capita income  each year.  Put simply Kenya would have to grow as fast as the fastest growing nations in human history…and not stop…for 20 years.  Not impossible by not likely either.

Furthering the problem with using China as a benchmark in the development field is its political structure. While its economic growth has been outstanding, certainly the envy of the many developing nations, leaders are also looking at the political structure of China. Whether rapid economic growth at the expense of political freedoms is desirable, is not a question I can answer…nor should any NGO or development agency  attempt answer to answer this for anyone but it will prove challenging for the development and aid field in years to come.

    Saving lives doesn’t lead to overpopulation. Just the opposite. Creating societies where people enjoy basic health, relative prosperity, fundamental equality and access to contraceptives is the only way to a sustainable world.

True and worth stating as climate change,  and overpopulation are increasingly part of the Western debate.  It also has a subtext of, “growth is not a zero sum game.” With this in mind the prosperity of one nation can be to the benefit of those surrounding it. This is not true only in a political sense i.e. Rwanda does well because the war in DRC has ended but also in opportunity cost. Less inequality and more general well-being can maximize human potential and lead to even greater gain.

There is much more to letter that I don’t address here and as I said it’s a quick read.  All in all its a good analysis and worth your time.

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