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Global Economics

Bill Gates Is Crazy Optimistic About Ending Poverty


Photograph by Jin Lee/Bloomberg


Bill Gates is the ultimate Davos Man. He’s a billionaire do-gooder who’s not afraid of a little snow. (O.K., a lot of snow.) But what really marks the co-founder of Microsoft (MFST) as a Davosian is a level of optimism that is just this side of delusional.

Today, on the eve of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss skiing village of Davos, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released its annual letter, titled “3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor.”

Gates’s first myth is that poor countries are doomed to stay poor. China alone disproves this, Gates argues. He writes, “By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.” He adds: “Every nation in South America, Asia, and Central America (with the possible exception of Haiti), and most in coastal Africa, will have joined the ranks of today’s middle-income nations.”

His second myth is that foreign aid is a big waste. To cite one success, vaccination has cut the number of new polio cases worldwide to under 400 a year, down from 350,000 a quarter-century ago, according to the letter. “The next time someone tells you we can trim the budget by cutting aid, I hope you will ask whether it will come at the cost of more people dying,” Gates writes.

“By 2035,” he says, “child mortality in nearly all countries can be as low as the U.S. in 1980.”

Third up on the myth list is that saving lives leads to overpopulation. “It may be counterintuitive, but the countries with the most deaths have among the fastest-growing populations in the world,” Gates writes. Here he quotes his wife, Melinda: “We make the future sustainable when we invest in the poor, not when we insist on their suffering.”

Gates will be echoing those optimistic themes at multiple events in Davos this week, public and private. Agree with him or not, you have to grant him this much: He’s putting his money where his mouth is.

Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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