Gates’ 2014 Annual Letter

The fifth annual letter penned by Bill and Melinda Gates has launched an elegant retaliation against the three most dangerous ‘myths’ that ‘block the progress’ of the world’s poorest citizens. Moving away from the annual letters’ previous form as a report on the achievements of the foundation, this year the letter rebuts the notions that poor countries will always be poor, foreign aid is wasteful and that ‘saving lives leads to overpopulation’.

The letter demonstrates that the movement to eradicate poverty has made enormous strides in progress in the last 30 years; with more than 1 billion people having been lifted out of impoverishment since the middle of the 20th century. Moreover, the future incidence of inequality appears much brighter to the Gates, who predict the world will be almost entirely without extreme poverty by the year 2035, excluding some countries such as North Korea, and Haiti.

This positive prediction is based on the growing income trends of the last half century, which has seen the globe change from an environment of the ‘rich west, and the poor rest’, to a world in which there are low, middle, and high income countries. Bill Gates predicts that this trend will continue and suggests that within 20 years, more than 90% of the worlds’ countries will enjoy a per capita income higher than that of India today. Although this progress has occurred over time, as a result of many factors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made a large contribution to these changes, granting upwards of U.S.$28.3 billion in poverty alleviation initiatives in the years since its inception in 1997.

Despite this, the Gates foundation, has received a large amount of negative feedback in the week since the letter was published, with a number of aid and development heavyweights such as Bill Easterly critiquing both the message and content of the annual letter. Indeed, Bill Gates at times fails to truly address the hard truths of poverty eradication – namely, that many aid projects do fail and some cause harm. He also glosses over significant details that do not serve his immediate argument, such as when he upholds the prediction thatby 2035, every country will have child-mortality rates that are as low as the rate in America or the U.K. in 1980’ as evidence of the ‘phenomenal investment’ returns of health aid. While an improvement on the past, such a rate (15 per every 1,000 births) is in fact neither remarkable or in any way distinctive, especially in comparison to contemporary rates in high-income countries (Iceland, the top of the Global Peace Index in 2013 has a rate of two per 1,000 and Singapore, which ranked 16th, has a rate of three per 1,000).

All is not lost, however. In the third segment of the letter, Melinda Gates rejects the notion that supporting populations that suffer from extreme poverty leads to overpopulation. She cites a variety of statistics to demonstrate that the countries with the highest death rates also tend to be those with the highest rates of both birth and population growth. This is important because when there are deficits in peace building pillars, such as the acceptance of the rights of others and the equitable distribution of resources, the death rate in a country will increase, suggesting that peace is an imperative prerequisite for the complete eradication of poverty, both now and into the future.

Correspondingly, the countries that Bill Gates predicts will continue to suffer from poverty, even in the year 2035, are among the least peaceful today; North Korea ranked 154 out of 162 countries in the 2013 Global Peace Index, while Brazil – a country the Gates consider to be a promising example of middle-income growth - ranked 81 out of 162. 

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