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The Gates Foundation Letter:

In which John discusses the three myths at the center of Bill and Melinda Gates's 2013 annual letter: 1. Poor countries are NOT doomed to remain poor. 2. Foreign aid is NOT a waste of money. (In fact, health aid at least is an astonishingly good investment.) 3. Saving children's lives does NOT lead to overpopulation. (In fact, decreasing infant mortality has consistently slowed population growth all over the world.)

 Intro and Child Mortality Rates

Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday. So worldwide, more than 6 million children died in 2013, which is horrible and unjust and unacceptable. But it's also the lowest that number has been in quite a while, even though the world population has like steadily increased. Like, Hank, when do you think the last time was that the world saw fewer than 6.3 million children die in a year: 1975, when the population of the world was 4 billion? 1900 when it was 1.6 billion? No, in 1900 probably more than 8 million children died. Earth has not seen a year with so few child deaths in hundreds of years--maybe a thousand years! 

 Intro to the Gates Foundation and Three Myths

So, Hank, I'm a big fan of the Gates Foundation, the organization set up by Bill and Melinda Gates that is--favorite mission statement ever-- devoted to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live a healthy and productive life. And Bill and Melinda just released this fascinating letter highlighting three myths about development--and yes, I can call them Bill and Melinda. Perhaps you're not familiar with the rule of twitter following (which I just made up) whereby you can call anyone you follow on twitter by their first name. See also my acquaintances Barack, Beyonce, and Ellen. Right, but anyway, Bill and Melinda's three myths:

 Myth 1: Poor Countries Will Forever Be Poor

First, it is not true that poor countries will forever be poor. Hank, I hear this all the time, especially about Africa, that despite their rich natural resources, "those countries" are just "doomed" to stay poor. Well yeah, no. I mean, for one thing, seven of the ten fastest growing economies of the last five years are in Africa. To quote Bill, "you should look skeptically at anyone who treats an entire continent as an undifferentiated mass of poverty and disease." It is not fair that Bill Gates gets to be both a billionaire and a good writer. Okay, it's time to put aside personal jealousy and return to statistics. Adjusted for inflation, Botswana's income per person in 1960 was $383-it is now $12,000-$48,000 for a family of four. Now that's an extreme example, but this is happening around the world--in the last fifty years, income per person in India has quadrupled; in Brazil, it has nearly quintupled.

 Myth 2: Foreign Aid is a Waste

The second myth is that foreign aid is a waste. Okay, quick quiz--guess what percentage of your countries budget is spent on foreign aid. The answer is three percent--if you're Norwegian. In the United States it's less than one percent. And even with that small investment, we've seen tremendous results: twenty five years ago, there were 350,000 new cases of polio a year. Today, thanks to the aid funded polio eradication initiative, there are fewer than 400. Malaria, and measles, and TB have all declined dramatically, and healthier kids go to school more, and then they work more when they grow up than they would if they were chronically ill or disabled.

 Myth 3: Saving Lives Leads to Overpopulation

And the last myth is that saving lives leads to overpopulation. I hear this all the time and it's just not true! Population growth declines as infant mortality declines. All over the world. It is that simple. To quote Melinda, "we make the future sustainable when we invest in the poor, not when we insist upon their suffering." BOOM! The "boom" isn't part of the quote, that is-that was my addition.

 Direct Benefits of Providing Aid

In short, Hank, these investments are showing phenomenal returns, and the greatest risk we face is abandoning our success because we wrongly think of it as failure. I'm gonna say it again: fewer children died in 2013 than in any year on record. And all this means, just to be clear, a better world not only for those living in poverty but also for the rest of us. I know this is counter to a lot of what you hear on the news, but wealthier countries benefit when poor countries become less poor. For one thing, there are more people on the earth with the education and well-being to make wonderful things, from paintings to smartphone apps. But there are also more people to buy the stuff that we make, whether that's artificial lips or, for example, my novel The Fault in Our Stars. Hank, the Brazilian edition of TFIOS is called A Culpa E Das Estrelas--(he said, butchering the Portuguese). Even though I can't say the title of the book, it's sold hundreds of copies in Brazil--it's more popular there than in Germany or the UK. A country once deemed incurably poor now has, by some measures, a healthier book publishing landscape than many countries in Europe. And it's not just Brazillians who benefit from Brazil's phenomenal growth--it's also young adult novelists in Indianapolis.

 Thanks and Closing

So thanks to everyone in Brazil who's bought my book and thanks to the Gates foundation for decreasing world suck and busting those myths. There's a link to Bill and Melinda's letter in the dooblydoo; it really is worth reading. Hank, I will see you on Friday.