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"By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been."
January 21, 2014 11:15 AM   Subscribe

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation explains 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor in their 2014 annual letter.

Myth One: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor

Myth Two: Foreign aid is a big waste

Myth Three: Saving lives leads to overpopulation
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (101 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
Love it. Everything about it is clever, from the message, to the graphs, to actually making people click "Agree". Even though I don't necessarily believe any of those myths, despair and cynicism sometimes make them seem like they have the ring of truth.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:31 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]


Overall I agree with the points made about development and poverty but I was frustrated by the dismissive attitude with respect to the threat of climate change.

Statements like this:

It is true that we’ll need to develop cheaper, cleaner sources of energy to keep all this growth from making the climate and environment worse.... However, as more people are educated, they will contribute to solving these problems.

strike me as practically Pollyanna-ish. I can see how improved access to education can lead to more research into clean energy, and a greater chance of breakthroughs, but we don't really have time to wait for that process to play out. A strategy of "more STEM education, hope for a breakthrough" is not going to be a winning one absent strong commitments by developed and developing countries to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, and I wish that someone with Bill Gates' stature would make that statement.

From a NYTimes article this weekend:

Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report. Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found.

A delay would most likely force future generations to develop the ability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet, the report found. But it is not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would probably be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions.

posted by Asparagus at 11:40 AM on January 21 [13 favorites]


Graph.

1. On a purely pedantic note, "camel" vs. "dromedary" is a meaningless disctinction. Two-hump camels are called bactrian camels, and are very rare; dromedaries are camels too, and are so much more common that they're nearly always what people are talking about when they're talking about camels.

2. More seriously: Has the data in that graph been adjusted for inflation? If not, it's very misleading.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:46 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


2. More seriously: Has the data in that graph been adjusted for inflation? If not, it's very misleading.

The graph that says "GDP PER CAPITA CONSTANT 2005 PPP$" under it?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:48 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


Um... Oh.

BUT THEY'RE STILL WRONG ABOUT CAMELS
posted by Sys Rq at 11:49 AM on January 21 [24 favorites]


But have the constant 2005 dollars been adjusted for inflation?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:51 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


.....no.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:52 AM on January 21


One of the most frightening developments, if I may call it that as it's more like a dawning realization that hasn't really entered the public consciousness yet, is that we are probably never going to run out of fossil carbon to burn. Turns out it's everywhere, particularly in methane hydrates. So those of us who pinned our desperate hopes for the conversion to an environmentally sustainable energy economy on necessity due to resource depletion are now feeling a certain despair. If it's a race between when we run out of easy carbon fuels vs reaching a catastrophic climactic tipping point, it's not even close. If we're going to do it we're going to have to choose it for all the right reasons: not because it's getting too expensive to drill. And doing things for the right reasons isn't something you can rely on a culture with an unshakable monotheistic faith in capitalism to do.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:59 AM on January 21 [29 favorites]


I like this: "There is a double standard at work here. I’ve heard people calling on the government to shut down some aid program if one dollar of corruption is found. On the other hand, four of the past seven governors of Illinois have gone to prison for corruption, and to my knowledge no one has demanded that Illinois schools be shut down or its highways closed."
posted by maudlin at 12:01 PM on January 21 [47 favorites]


If we're going to do it we're going to have to choose it for all the right reasons: not because it's getting too expensive to drill.

I think political activism can make it too expensive to drill by forcing the companies to realize the full costs of extraction, refinement, and clean-up. Back-end costs like abatement as well as the costs to extract in a non-polluting way will either force them to turn to cleaner alternatives or, if cost-feasible, to actually extract and use fossil fuels in a clean way.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:04 PM on January 21


But have the constant 2005 dollars been adjusted for inflation?

I think it means that they've adjusted all dollar amounts to 2005 dollars so the comparison is apples to apples. Inflation between 1960 and 2005 is therefore accounted for.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:07 PM on January 21


I love no-bullshit Bill Nye. No-bullshit Bill Nye wants to see your fucking data.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:08 PM on January 21 [22 favorites]


extract in a non-polluting way will either force them to turn to cleaner alternatives or, if cost-feasible, to actually extract and use fossil fuels in a clean way.

Mental Wimp, "clean" carbon energy use is certainly a nice-to-have: not filling the air with sulfur dioxides and the watersheds with poisonous sludge is a worthy goal as far as it goes. But "clean" fossil energy use produces as much -- technically a bit more in practice -- carbon dioxide as "dirty" fossil energy use. It has no bearing at all on climate change or the acidification of the oceans and so on.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:09 PM on January 21


If we're going to do it we're going to have to choose it for all the right reasons: not because it's getting too expensive to drill.

If we start accounting for the externalities of burning fossil fuels, that's pretty much the same thing -- let people use their old gasoline-powered cars if they're willing to compensate society for the damage done, and a lot fewer people will want to.
posted by Etrigan at 12:09 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Does this contradict the arguments of the anti-globalization factions? Is this not proof that globalization works?
posted by Keith Talent at 12:10 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


There are two approaches to this type of fundraising, one that says "EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE WE NEED MONEY NOW" and the other, like this, that says "We've got this thing on the run, you can hop on now and be part of the winning team."

The worst thing about the first technique is that you can't help but notice after a while that no matter how much money is poured in the plea never changes. It looks like a sinkhole. You end up needing a constant supply of new donors as your old ones give up.

This type of message is, appropriately enough, far more sustainable. Progress is shown not in the form of a single kid in a village somewhere but rather on a larger scale. The problem is solvable and demonstrable progress is being made. I'll help out with that.

So cheers to Bill and Melinda Gates for standing with reason and progress rather than panic and pity. They've got a good thing going whatever happens in the future it has already panned out.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:12 PM on January 21 [27 favorites]


Altogether a good message. However, I lived in Mexico City for a time; the "before" picture of Mexico City and the statement that Mexico City had no running water - compared to the "after" pictures - is a distortion of the true ""before/after" facts of that city. The photo showing a poor slum as representative of Mexico City is a gratuitous photo.

Some of the outskirts and slums in and around Mexico City looked like this in 1987, but the main city does not, and never did as far back as I can remember. That said, it's gratifying to know that clean water in now available for most citizens in Ciudad Mexico.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:21 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Overall I agree with the points made about development and poverty but I was frustrated by the dismissive attitude with respect to the threat of climate change.

I think it's less a dismissive attitude than it's not the problem they're focused on solving.
posted by insufficient data at 12:24 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


However, as more people are educated, they will contribute to solving these problems.

The technocrat's credo.
posted by aaronetc at 12:28 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I hope Bill Gates inspires many other insanely rich people to retire and become philanthropists.
posted by orme at 12:28 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


However, as more people are educated, they will contribute to solving these problems.

The technocrat's credo.


Do you have a better one?
posted by Aizkolari at 12:33 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Sounds like he's placing trust in education, not technological control.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:35 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I think it's less a dismissive attitude than it's not the problem they're focused on solving.

Not to be dismissive of their chosen problem, but the one they're not focused on has a large potential for making the one they are focused on irrelevant.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:36 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


It is true that we’ll need to develop cheaper, cleaner sources of energy to keep all this growth from making the climate and environment worse.... However, as more people are educated, they will contribute to solving these problems.

strike me as practically Pollyanna-ish. I can see how improved access to education can lead to more research into clean energy, and a greater chance of breakthroughs, but we don't really have time to wait for that process to play out.

The technocrat's credo.


I'm not sure that this is what he means, precisely. Education about climate change and greenhouse gases also contributes to the likelihood of citizens coming together to force structural changes through the political process, by making lifestyle changes, etc. I don't think that Gates is limiting this to the idea of education creating some sort of band of super-green Randian scientist gods or something.

The fact is that people who live at the edge with little or no control over their lives are not going to be able to contribute - in any way - to changing the status quo. Bringing them up, through education or social services or reforms targeting income level, above the point where they have disposable time and energy and money to put into changing their society is kind of a prerequisite for democratic change.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:38 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Is this not proof that globalization works?

Well, it's certainly proof that giving away huge sums of money works. We should probably try it for other problems too.
posted by mittens at 12:39 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Finite world: finite resources. Gates seems to be making the absolutely absurd suggestion that everyone in the world can, and should, hope for a level of human comfort that is in actuality completely unattainable (forget sustainable) if we're doing it for 6...

... billion (inserts pinky in mouth corner)

... people


Completely fucking absurd, but not surprising: the rich live in an well-maintained fog of denial.
posted by cbecker333 at 12:39 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


And unless you think that putting saving the world from climate change in the hands of the same elites who've ignored or exploited the problem for the past fifty years is the best way going forward, democratic change is precisely what is needed. These populations emerging from poverty aren't just future scientists and lawmakers, they're also, in the mass, the future citizens who will have to keepthe pressure on those lawmakers and scientists to focus on the real problems.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:41 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Gates seems to be making the absolutely absurd suggestion that everyone in the world can, and should, hope for a level of human comfort that is in actuality completely unattainable...

I don't see this at all. Human comfort, and western reliance on expensive, wasteful luxury, aren't really the same thing. I'm sure there are businesses who would embrace it, who would see the basic goal as making sure every person in the world can drive their internal combustion car to Wal-Mart for the family-size pack of ribs, but surely there are more reasonable comforts--sufficient food, adequate healthcare, education and opportunity--that can be accomplished without turning the world into a cinder.
posted by mittens at 12:48 PM on January 21 [23 favorites]


Completely fucking absurd, but not surprising: the rich live in an well-maintained fog of denial.

Definitely not absurd, if his investments in clean energy pay off.
posted by Dasein at 12:48 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I hope Bill Gates inspires many other insanely rich people to retire and become philanthropists.

Well, hopefully they are inspired to actual philanthropy. Not sure the Gates's are the best example - they have given a ridonkulously small percentage of the foundation's money to actual causes. Instead, the money mostly exists as a giant hedge fund, in some cases investing in companies that stomp all over the poor while making money for rich investors: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundation#Investments

sick of this techno-economic fantasy promise where we all get to live like kings without changing any of our behavior, and the free market (plus some yet to be discovered endless source of energy) somehow magically finds us the resources we need to do it...
posted by cbecker333 at 12:51 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


They also use their money to undermine public education by supporting charter schools, which, well...
"Seventeen charter schools closed in Columbus, Ohio" http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/21/char-j21.html

oh and they give money to Monsanto, so they support blackmailing poor US farmers too.

the list really does go on and on... shall I?
posted by cbecker333 at 1:00 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


they have given a ridonkulously small percentage of the foundation's money to actual causes.

Here's the numbers from the foundation's fact sheet:

Asset Trust Endowment: $40.2 billion(2)(1)
Total grant payments since inception: $28.3 billion (1)
Total 2011 grant payments: $3.4 billion(3)
Total 2012 grant payments: $3.4 billion(4)


So in 2011 and 2012, they gave away about 10 percent of the endowment level as of September 2013. What, in your opinion, would be the ideal percentage to give away to make it "actual philanthropy"? Do you think if they gave a higher percentage that the fund would be self-sustaining? Or should they just spend it all in a year or two until it's all gone?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 1:09 PM on January 21 [15 favorites]


the list really does go on and on... shall I?

Is there a well-composed takedown you can point to or recommend?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:09 PM on January 21


"By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been."

Except wealth inequality, amirite Billinda?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:10 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


A few countries will be held back by war, politics (North Korea, barring a big change there), or geography (landlocked nations in central Africa). And inequality will still be a problem: There will be poor people in every region.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:14 PM on January 21


Steely-eyed Missile Man: ""By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been."

Except wealth inequality, amirite Billinda?
"

Do you have any data to back that snark up?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:15 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Except wealth inequality, amirite Billinda?

I want to misuse a quote from Branko Milanovic from his recent piece on inequality, while reflecting on what aid-based decreases in global poverty might mean:

"...we live today in a non-Marxian world. Karl Marx could indeed eloquently write in 1867 in “Das Kapital”, or earlier in “The Manifesto” about proletarians in different parts of the world--peasants in India, workers in England, France or Germany--sharing the same political interests. They were invariably poor and, what is important, they were all about equally poor, eking out a barely above-subsistence existence, regardless of the country in which they lived. There was not much of a difference in their material positions. One could imagine and promote proletarian solidarity, and consequently--because equally poor people of different nations faced equally rich people each in their own nation--a generalized class conflict. This was the idea behind Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”. There were no national contradictions, just a worldwide class contradiction.

But if the world’s actual situation is such that the greatest disparities are due to income gaps between nations, then proletarian solidarity doesn't make much sense. Indeed income levels of poor individuals in poor countries are much lower than income levels of poor people in rich countries. Those who are considered nationally poor in the United States or the European Union have incomes which are many times greater than the incomes of the poor people in poor countries and moreover often greater than the incomes of the middle class in poor countries. And if that gap is so wide, then one cannot expect any kind of coalition between these income-heterogeneous groups of nationally poor people, or at least not any coalition based on the similarity of their material positions and near-identity of their economic interests. Proletarian solidarity is then simply dead because there is no longer such a thing as global proletariat.


So what if this capitalist philanthrophy equalizes the incomes of the poor enough to drive the recreation of the global proletariat?
posted by mittens at 1:22 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


oh and they give money to Monsanto, so they support blackmailing poor US farmers too.

the list really does go on and on... shall I?


Gates does a lot of good, but some of its programs and philosophies are questionable.

That said, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. GF is huge, and they are powerful. I have engaged GF a few times and the vibe one gets is that they want to help, but they are such a monolith that sometimes their program officers get swamped - other times, programs seem to get bogged down in inflexible policy. What this tells me is that we need about 20 more Gates Foundations. Last, lets not forget who runs the programs and sets policy for most of the important foundations - it's largely a list of people with or from privilege, so one has to beware of too much neo-liberal bias in some of the programming. [[a side note is that the whole business of philanthropic foundations is largely an Amrican phenomenon; mist regions don't have philanthropic foundation infratstructure]]

We should encourage more wealthy people to do what Gates and Buffet have done, because the more diversity we have in giving - and philosophies of giving - the better...just like diversity in other domains.
posted by Vibrissae at 1:23 PM on January 21 [15 favorites]


It's perfectly feasible for most people in the world to live an American middle class lifestyle, because middle class-generating economies are, if you will, exothermic: they don't consume wealth, they create it.

Post-war Korea and Taiwan are the obvious examples of this -- not only has they vastly enriched themselves, they have enriched the entire world through trade and innovation, and doing this while simultaneously vastly enriching the United States through large scale net migration of entrepreneurs and professionals (virtually all of whom and their American-born children are living upper-middle-class or upper-class American lives.)

The Korean and Taiwan examples show how relatively low the bar is, too. All you need is a sufficiently honest and effective legal system such that investments in education, property and contracts cannot be stolen from you by thugs in or out of government. Their outperformance of China and India show that scale and (in the case of India) democracy don't compensate for the constraints of arbitrary interference or ineffective enforcement upon economic rights.
posted by MattD at 1:36 PM on January 21 [17 favorites]


middle class-generating economies are, if you will, exothermic

Once could almost say such economies have an effect like a giant greenhouse around the earth.
posted by crayz at 2:03 PM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Yes, illuminating choice of words, whether intentional or no.
posted by stenseng at 2:06 PM on January 21


Vibrissae: "Gates does a lot of good, but some of its programs and philosophies are questionable."

From your first link:
Some side effects of the Gates Foundation’s investments seem to be less intentional, but equally damaging. By pouring huge amounts of contribution into high-profile killers like HIV/AIDS, Gates guarantees increased demand for specially-trained staff and clinicians, causing staff shortage in local hospitals, leaving more children susceptible to birth sepsis, diarrhea and asphyxia. Worse off, due to more generous funding and pay raises from Global Fund, doctors and nurses move into HIV/AIDS care, resulting in "brain drain" in other medical fields.
That's... pretty weak sauce, and a helluva reach. "Because they put money into research for one disease, some other diseases might not be getting as much attention."

We aren't talking about fucking excema research preventing anyone from getting cancer treatments here. We're talking about a muscular attack on a serious, global, lethal epidemic, which (according to this article) somehow causes kids to have "birth sepsis, diarrhea and asphyxia."

That's a reach so astounding it's a complete slander. Really? Too much research into AIDS treatments causes children to have diarrhea? Well, Bil Gates ought to be ashamed of himse... waitaminnit... That's just stupid.

Here's another atrocious "harm" the B&MGF has caused: "Consequently, life expectancy in Botswana only rose marginally by 0.4 years between 2000 and 2005."

Those bastards!

--

Here's the reality: You CANNOT spend money at those levels without making missteps. And people LOOOOOVE to hate on (1) billionaires and (2) Bill Gates.

I double-dog-dare you to name another entity spending half so much money causing less problems, or doing more good.

The man is genuinely improving the planet. Boohoo-fucking-hoo if sometimes he isn't perfect. He's trying. And his critics are sitting at their keyboards, slinging darts at him like jealous gnats. And mostly doing nothing themselves - certainly few are donating as much (proportionally) of their personal wealth to improving the planet. Don't kid yourself - if you qualify for even the lowest tier of the US middle class, you have a LOT of disposable income.

Disgusting.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:12 PM on January 21 [29 favorites]


>>>However, as more people are educated, they will contribute to solving these problems.
>>The technocrat's credo.
>Do you have a better one?


Personally I'm going with worshiping the Monkey God.

You wave your hands and say "Technology will save humankind" and I'll wave my hands and say "The Monkey God will save humankind" and we'll sit back and watch what happens first.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:32 PM on January 21


Too much research into AIDS treatments causes children to have diarrhea

While I agree that the criticisms of the Gates Foundation can be exaggerated, I just want to point out that while diarrhea is an inconvenience in developed countries, worldwide it is the second leading killer of children under five, claiming 760,000 lives a year. Ideally, treating AIDS should not come at the expense of other, more mundane diseases. (By comparison AIDS claimed slightly double that number of lives in 2011, 1.7 million. And those were older so had less impact on years of potential life lost.)
posted by TedW at 2:35 PM on January 21


You wave your hands and say "Technology will save humankind" and I'll wave my hands and say "The Monkey God will save humankind" and we'll sit back and watch what happens first.

Well, the former has a non-zero chance of working, and the latter does not, so I am struggling to see your point.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:50 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


How is treatment of AIDS happening at the expense of treatment of diarrhea? I understand that diarrhea is deadly for poor children. But the treatment is known, and extremely inexpensive (essentially, water, sugar, and salt to stave off dehydration. zinc supplements, that kind of thing rather than cutting edge antiviral therapies). The barriers to prevention by improving sanitation and access to drinking water to prevent childhood diarrhea, and to distribution of the extremely cheap treatments, are largely political.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:54 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


sick of this techno-economic fantasy promise where we all get to live like kings without changing any of our behavior

Actually it *is* possible to transform the lives of the world's poorest without impacting our privileged lifestyles. The UN suggests it would cost only about $40 billion to provide food, health care and basic social services for the world's poorest people. A little over double that figure could more or less eradicate absolute poverty from the world. Raising $40 bn from the world's richest countries, or individuals, would hardly even be noticed.
posted by dontjumplarry at 2:59 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


You wave your hands and say "Technology will save humankind" and I'll wave my hands and say "The Monkey God will save humankind" and we'll sit back and watch what happens first.

This is a perfect demonstration of the false dichotomy most people live with. Assume god will save us on the one hand, assume perpetually increasing technological complexity will save us on the other. They are both faith based.

Empire logic has been internalized in the minds of humanity for so long that it's nearly invisible. It's so deeply engrained that those who do discuss it out loud usually fail to see how the myths below form their behavior without their knowledge. Life is about power, life is about economic growth, life is about military discipline, life is about competition, life is about commanding ever greater quantities of energy, life is about displaying social status, life is about denying myself physically, emotionally and spiritually so that I can submit to the above precepts. Until we unpackage all that we're running straight into the wall of the limits of this planet. In the context of the world as it is I like what Bill Gates is doing but it's a drop in the bucket.
posted by MillMan at 3:04 PM on January 21


Assume god will save us on the one hand, assume perpetually increasing technological complexity will save us on the other. They are both faith based.

I don't assume or have faith that science and technology will solve all of our problems. I just think it's the best shot we have and that it's a position well-supported by what we know about what R&D has done for us in the past.

Life isn't a morality play and it's not so easy to define heroes or villains for issues like public health or climate change.
posted by anifinder at 3:18 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


The UN suggests it would cost only about $40 billion to provide food, health care and basic social services for the world's poorest people. A little over double that figure could more or less eradicate absolute poverty from the world. 

Meanwhile, it's been observed in another thread that if the 85 wealthiest individuals in the world were willing to part with 1/30th of their wealth, enough would be freed up to eliminate extreme poverty from the world outright. The problem is not inequality across countries; it's that there's essentially a transnational economic elite hording all the spoils of the world's productivity gains and using labor market arbitrage to pit laborers of different nationalities against each other.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:24 PM on January 21 [10 favorites]


TedW: "Too much research into AIDS treatments causes children to have diarrhea

While I agree that the criticisms of the Gates Foundation can be exaggerated, I just want to point out that while diarrhea is an inconvenience in developed countries, worldwide it is the second leading killer of children under five, claiming 760,000 lives a year.
"

Yes, but first you have to prove that M&BGF funding of AIDS research has a causative effect on diarrhea, as the article implies. Which is horseshit.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:26 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


A strategy of "more STEM education, hope for a breakthrough" is not going to be a winning one absent strong commitments by developed and developing countries to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, and I wish that someone with Bill Gates' stature would make that statement.

I hear that. The Canadian Government or Petroleum Industry or whatever those guys in Parliament are called seem so threatened by Neil Young they've spent the better part of the week telling us he's a singer and we shouldn't take him seriously. At least Bill Gates would be harder to criticize in the same way, not that they wouldn't try.
posted by Hoopo at 3:29 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The article implies that AIDS research is taking away manpower from treating diarrhea, not that it is causing it:
"staff shortage in local hospitals, leaving more children susceptible to birth sepsis, diarrhea and asphyxia"
posted by soelo at 3:34 PM on January 21


This thread saved the world.
posted by planetesimal at 3:36 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


there's essentially a transnational economic elite hording all the spoils of the world's productivity gains and using labor market arbitrage to pit laborers of different nationalities against each other.

This big "globalism" drum that capitalists and industrialists have been beating for the last 30 years, freeing up the international movement of capital and goods... when do we get to the part of it that where they start freeing up international movement of labor?
posted by anonymisc at 3:36 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Didn't we already have one train wreck thread about this "the world is better than ever" Gates Foundation line, about a month ago?
posted by thelonius at 3:38 PM on January 21


The nerve of the Gates foundation trying to solve AIDS, when larger killers like Malaria afflict the world!

(oh, wait, nevermind).

So many billionaires don't do shit to try to make this world a better place. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of hate for those very few that do.
posted by el io at 3:41 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


thelonius, are you thinking of the Reasons to be Optimistic thread?
posted by soelo at 3:45 PM on January 21


yes - thanks
posted by thelonius at 3:47 PM on January 21


The problem is not inequality across countries; it's that there's essentially a transnational economic elite hording all the spoils ...

That's self-serving rubbish. The inequality between countries -- not just between the super-rich and the rest -- is a key part of the problem. The poorest people in the UK or Australia have almost unimaginable wealth compared those living in absolute poverty in India or Chad. The fact that billionaires have expropriated a vast amount of the world's wealth doesn't alter the fact that you, and I, and most of the people in this thread are sitting on vast amounts of wealth ourselves that could save and transform lives if it were shared with the world's poorest.

Most of the people in this thread are one or two percenters in global terms. At worst, in the top 10%. Go see for yourself.

It's easy to call out Bill Gates for not doing more to save children from dying of diarrhea; much harder to face up to our own disproportionate share of the pie. I think all of us in the top 10-15% of global income have an ethical duty to intervene in poverty, just as we have an ethical duty to ruin a nice pair of shoes to save a kid drowning in front of us (Peter Singer's famous shallow pond analogy).
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:57 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


From mittens' quote:

But if the world’s actual situation is such that the greatest disparities are due to income gaps between nations, then proletarian solidarity doesn't make much sense. Indeed income levels of poor individuals in poor countries are much lower than income levels of poor people in rich countries. Those who are considered nationally poor in the United States or the European Union have incomes which are many times greater than the incomes of the poor people in poor countries and moreover often greater than the incomes of the middle class in poor countries. And if that gap is so wide, then one cannot expect any kind of coalition between these income-heterogeneous groups of nationally poor people, or at least not any coalition based on the similarity of their material positions and near-identity of their economic interests. Proletarian solidarity is then simply dead because there is no longer such a thing as global proletariat.

At first I was gonna say "ha, those crazy capitalists figured it out, you've got to spread the pain and misery around the world on an epic scale and not allow any pool of it to accumulate for too long in any given area in order to extract the maximum amount of value from human capital without completely destroying the system!" They figured out the undoing of Marx!

Then I realized that's probably "Empire 101" and that Marx's view was simply naive...alongside the perk that is "take shit that isn't yours and make it yours forever through force and leverage your power to maintain a seemingly endless vault to power" is the "play what were entire nation-states against each other, using their cultural norms and traditional variances to exploit their xenophobia and constantly move opportunity around so that you have a constant pool of sick poor people to blame each other for taking away each others opportunities" perk.

Slavery and misery has been diversified and sprayed around like toxic pig pink shit with nowhere to go but everywhere. There's a global CDO with tranches of different pools of labor, and the worst of it has been sliced and diced and spread around the entire globe, so that people with the most power to change the system peacefully from within using existing political mechanisms (largely Americans and Europeans in my estimation) are complacent enough that they can constantly have the various benefits of civilization taken away, one at a time, while other countries that are accustomed to crushing poverty and starvation can continue to suffer in abject misery.

Basically it's all an optimization problem. How can these 85 people completely fuck the world without taking it all down? Without killing their X-Boxes and their Laphroaig distilleries and their whores and their cocaine mules...how much can I suck this fucking thing dry and still keep sucking on it really, really hard?

Fuckin' hyoo-mons
posted by lordaych at 4:02 PM on January 21


I'm gonna assume Larry Ellison spends his money on priceless works of art, which he then burns.
posted by Artw at 4:03 PM on January 21


megan ellison otoh...
posted by kliuless at 4:14 PM on January 21


Oh, and if you think we have trouble attaining global solidarity because of disparities in these "tranches" of economic status, consider how much trouble Americans have sympathizing with someone in the next lower tax bracket. We have all sorts of convenient mechanisms for judging how hard we work, how good our "choices" are when it comes to buying essentials and less-essentials, and are constantly re-assessing whether we or other people "deserve" anything.

I've been really obsessed with gangs and gang violence lately, watching various documentaries on gang culture and hopelessness and nihilism that underlies gangsterism around the world. How it emerges from such crappy situations, often grows and festers in prison populations, and manages to explode into fucking transnational organizations with absurd power structures. And of course, the same notion of loyalty that we expect in corporate America, amped up just a bit: "do what I say or you're fucked. But I'll fuck you in a moment's notice to save my ass." Like the end of "Casino" where all of the guys are getting whacked just in case they rat out the old bosses. WTF old bosses? I worked for you my whole life and you're gonna whack me just in case I break the code? What's your code?

I grew up in a shitty neighborhood and have constantly been surrounded by people my whole life (including in that shitty neighborhood) that have the mentality that "if you live in a violent poor neighborhood that's your fault and it will all just magically go away if you all pull yourself up by the boot straps."

But I know what it's like to be a privileged guy earning $60K who is depressed and miserable and just wants to be stoned and watch TV all day. I don't know what it's like to be an unprivileged guy earning $10K a year if I can scrape it together who is depressed and miserable and just wants to be stoned and watch TV all day. But I know how to sympathize with that guy. I'm not sure what I'm getting that, other than that there's a reason we let small pools of misery coalescence into certain areas. You can't spread it out forever...if you try to bulldoze a problem into a closet there's always going to be a mess at the bottom of the pile that will require some hands-on work to clean up.

Instead, we let economic misery fester and do nothing to create new opportunities to encourage people to move away from misery. We need to be able to point at the worst parts of Chicago, LA, Jersey, wherever, and say "let 'em die. They suck. They don't deserve better. They could choose better." We need them more than they need us...we keep them alive for ourselves.
posted by lordaych at 4:16 PM on January 21


It's easy to call out Bill Gates for not doing more to save children from dying of diarrhea; much harder to face up to our own disproportionate share of the pie. I think all of us in the top 10-15% of global income have an ethical duty to intervene in poverty, just as we have an ethical duty to ruin a nice pair of shoes to save a kid drowning in front of us (Peter Singer's famous shallow pond analogy).

This is an uncomfortable truth for a lot of people. I would add doing something about climate change as another obligation of the comfortable. It would be nice if these things were political priorities. I liked the article's focus on how much more rich countries could be doing.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:19 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


first you have to prove that M&BGF funding of AIDS research has a causative effect on diarrhea, as the article implies. Which is horseshit.

The more I think about this, the more I wish there were some real numbers to look at, to see whether there has been an exodus of African healthcare workers moving from primary care to AIDS specialties.

Because, while I agree that it's not a valid criticism of the philanthropic work, and susceptibility to diarrhea is overwhelmingly a sanitation issue, there certainly is a brain drain of African physicians moving to the States, and I can't see any reason the same economic factors might not work beween specialties within a country.
posted by mittens at 4:26 PM on January 21


The man (Gates) is genuinely improving the planet. Boohoo-fucking-hoo if sometimes he isn't perfect. He's trying. And his critics are sitting at their keyboards, slinging darts at him like jealous gnats. And mostly doing nothing themselves - certainly few are donating as much (proportionally) of their personal wealth to improving the planet. Don't kid yourself - if you qualify for even the lowest tier of the US middle class, you have a LOT of disposable income

In my post I cautioned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I said that GF does a lot of good, but GF could stand some improvement in certain areas. That's true of almost every well-meaning group, no? I have spent time with GF; it's a good, dedicated group, but they are spread thin, and because they are so public with their causes they have a lot of people looking for help.

If you see petty criticism directed at GF, it's more often than not a leftover from the hell of inefficiency that his company - MSFT - visited on the computing industry, worldwide. Don't forget, MSFT is the source of GF money comes from...many people associate anything Gates does with his time at MSFT. You would see the same thing happen if there was an Apple Foundation.

Like it or not, most foundations have a very dark underbelly of nefarious actions that helped earn the profits that their Foundations feed off of. Some observers aren't able to put the philanthropic stuff in its proper silo, forgetting the good that philanthropy can do when properly and timely applied.
posted by Vibrissae at 4:31 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I would suggest that anyone who is automatically against the activities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation because they are angry at Microsoft for whatever reason probably needs to sit down and have a long hard think about their priorities in life.
posted by Artw at 4:41 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]


...it would cost only about $40 billion to provide food, health care and basic social services for the world's poorest people. A little over double that figure could more or less eradicate absolute poverty

The United States spends something in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars a year attempting to eradicate poverty just inside the United States and fails miserably.
posted by Hatashran at 4:50 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The United States spends something in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars a year attempting to eradicate poverty just inside the United States and fails miserably.

Two points: First, poverty inside the United States, and poverty in developing countries, are two different things. Second, no, the US doesn't spend a trillion dollars a year attempting to eradicate American poverty.
posted by mittens at 5:04 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Because, while I agree that it's not a valid criticism of the philanthropic work, and susceptibility to diarrhea is overwhelmingly a sanitation issue, there certainly is a brain drain of African physicians moving to the States, and I can't see any reason the same economic factors might not work beween specialties within a country.

It's been claimed in the US for quite some time that high specialist salaries (and long GP working hours) are causing a drop in the number of med students choosing to be general practitioners, so I'm sure the same is true in other countries.

But the bigger point is that, as you mention, the key interventions in sanitation-related illnesses are in public health and infrastructure, not in doctors. You need water treatment plants, functioning sewers, and health inspectors -- in other words, lots and lots of modestly paid and adequately trained public sector workers. Doctors don't fix those problems, engineers and planners and bureaucrats do. By the time doctors are treating a cholera epidemic, all sorts of other people have failed in their jobs.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


The United States spends something in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars a year attempting to eradicate poverty just inside the United States and fails miserably.

Are you counting all of Social Security as "attempting to eradicate poverty"?
posted by mr_roboto at 5:36 PM on January 21


Well, at least we all agree that Bill Gates is responsible for neglecting diarreal diseases.

Oh, sorry, again, nevermind.
posted by el io at 5:36 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


Two points: First, poverty inside the United States, and poverty in developing countries, are two different things. Second, no, the US doesn't spend a trillion dollars a year attempting to eradicate American poverty.

Agree completely....and a trillion, really? That would be amazing.

Gates has been hater food forever, and he pushes on. He is at least doing SOMETHING. His fund does make investments, and maybe not the best choices in companies, but again he's doing SOMETHING.

I am doing what I can locally with our Church to help the despondent in our neighborhood. I could probably do more, but I do have to work to make sure I have funds to give....it's something.
posted by Benway at 5:38 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


If it's a race between when we run out of easy carbon fuels vs reaching a catastrophic climactic tipping point, it's not even close.

-California Snow Pack Conditions
-California's Endless Summer: "The state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables."
-It Never Rains in California: "California is the largest agricultural state, and an ongoing drought could have an impact on food prices - and on the economy."
posted by kliuless at 6:08 PM on January 21


Bill Gates: ‘Capitalism did not eradicate smallpox’
posted by zombieflanders at 6:24 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the thread highlighting the GF letter. It was an inspiring read.

Re AGW and getting onto renewables, I suspect that more genuine progress towards solutions in this area will come from advocating for and doing the seemingly unrelated things the GF are doing, vs fighting the unwinnable "you must radically alter your lifestyle because ... CARBON!" sort of battles we seem to be mired in.

Anyway, it's pretty clear I won't be around to personally witness the more dire consequences predicted if AGW continues unabated (... or to acknowledge that the current climate and CO2 models actually sucked after all). But infant mortality dropped to near negligible globally, within my lifetime? Who can't get behind that? Yeah. Let's do it.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:14 PM on January 21


That's self-serving rubbish.

I'm assuming you've never actually seen or experienced rural Southern poverty in the US? Our very poor are just as bad off, in all the ways that matter, as the very poor anywhere else. Introducing nationalism into people's idea of humanitarianism and egalitarianism, and suggesting economic prosperity/justice and quality of life around the world be viewed as a zero-sum game in which the declines suffered by some can be dismissed by simply hand-waving toward the marginal gains of others (the metric used here, people moving out of extreme poverty, means bringing them up from something like $1.25 a day in income to $1.26). Marginal gains for the many--important gains and good work! No one should dismiss these gains. But no one should dismiss the losses suffered by many in the US economic downturn and its sluggish, job-poor aftermath either. We also need to better understand the interplay of all these economic problems and the bigger-picture problems, like global warming, ocean acidification, and other human-driven ecological changes; I suspect the lessons we should be drawing from events like these (and for that matter, most of recent US history) are being lost in a swirl of defensive posturing, PR spin, smarm, and techno-futurist cheer-leading.

But good on the Gates Foundation for helping to make some improvements in the areas it works on. Now if we could just get the other 85 wealthiest people in the world to donate 1/30th of their wealth to the cause.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:16 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


...the US doesn't spend a trillion dollars a year attempting to eradicate American poverty

Mecidaid, 2012: $435 billion
Unemployment Insurance: $120 billion (estimated from the graph)
SNAP (food stamps): $79 billion
TANF and other cash: $24 billion
WIC: $7 billion

That's $665 billion of spending of which every single penny is an attempt to eradicate American poverty.

In 2013, the United States will spend about $816 billion on Social Security. The page doesn't give an exact number, but from here, 36% of beneficiaries get over 90% of their income from SS. 36% of $816 billion is $294 billion to eradicate poverty among seniors, survivors, and the disabled.

We're up to $959 billion now, and haven't touched the myriad other programs that I don't feel like looking up, all of which are an attempt to eradicate poverty - Section 8 housing, Pell grants, school lunches, and everything else that, if someone proposed cutting spending on it, that person would be accused of hating the poor.
posted by Hatashran at 7:29 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Hatashran, unfortunately you are lumping in payments and services to both poverty-level and above-poverty-level people. Payments to the nonworking poor make up about 9% of total entitlement spending. You link to the CBPP on Social Security, so please see this piece by them, breaking out who gets the benefits.
posted by mittens at 7:44 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


> We're up to $959 billion now ...all of which [is] an attempt to eradicate poverty

Nope. That's as misleading as saying "47% of Americans don't pay taxes".

First, the majority of those programs are things that people pay into and are intended as bridge mechanisms or safety nets that, in a better economy, people could get off of once they're employed again.

I yield to mittens for the breakdown of what of that money actually targets ending systemic poverty.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:48 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


What percent of Medicaid spending could we cut without creating any new poverty?
posted by Hatashran at 7:50 PM on January 21


No, we don’t spend $1 trillion on welfare each year
If you’ve read any conservative commentary on the war on poverty in the past week, you’ve likely seen this talking point: “We spend $1 trillion each year on welfare and there’s been no reduction in poverty.” That’s crazy! Then, a sentence later, you’ll probably see a line like this: “It’s true. According to a recent report, we spend a trillion dollars on means-test programs each year, yet the official census numbers show no reduction in poverty.”

If you are reading that second line quickly, you probably think it bolsters the credibility of the first line. It’s an “official” number, and the census and the report probably quote accurate numbers too, night? They do, but the second sentence is actually used as an escape hatch to say something that isn’t true. We don’t spend anywhere near a trillion dollars on welfare unless you mangle the term “welfare” to be meaningless, and we do reduce poverty.
[...]
So what should we take away from this?

--The federal government spends just $212 billion per year on what we could reasonably call “welfare.” (Even then, the poor have to enter the institution of waged labor to get the earned income tax credit.) And there have been numerous studies showing that these programs, especially things like food stamps, are both very efficient and effective at reducing poverty. They just don’t show up in the official poverty statistics, because that’s how the poverty statistics are designed.

-- Publicly funded services have never been thought of as welfare. I drive on publicly funded roads, but nobody analytically thinks of roads as belonging to category of “welfare.” If the poor take advantage of, say, a low-income taxpayer clinic, how is that welfare? Do taxpayer clinics encourage illegitimacy, dependency and idleness and other things conservatives worry about when it comes to welfare? This confuses more than it illuminates, which I imagine is the point.
Medicaid makes this very obvious. If a poor person gets access to decent health care, that’s not free money they get to spend on whatever they want. They aren’t “on the dole.”

-- The fact that Social Security and Medicare, major victories of the War on Poverty, aren’t here makes it clear something is wrong in the definition. Even though these are anti-poverty programs associated with the War on Poverty, nobody thinks of them as welfare, though they should fit this definition as well.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:02 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I'm assuming you've never actually seen or experienced rural Southern poverty in the US? Our very poor are just as bad off, in all the ways that matter, as the very poor anywhere else.

Really? Let's take a look, shall we? We can use India, one of the economic powerhouses of the developing world, and not even close to a worst case scenario.

How many homeless people are there in the entire US? Approximately 600K as it turns out.

There are up to 18 million people who are homeless or effectively homeless (ie live in slums in cobbled shacks) in Mumbai alone. There are still instances of cholera in Mumbai. And Mumbai is doing extremely well by Indian standards, and compared to a few years ago.

Life expectancy in India is 13 years lower than life expectancy in the US
.

India's GDP per capita is about 1/40th of the US's.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:09 PM on January 21


But "clean" fossil energy use produces as much -- technically a bit more in practice -- carbon dioxide as "dirty" fossil energy use.

Well, that's why I said it conditionally. If cost-feasible... Currently, we don't have the technology to recapture the carbon or if we do it is so monumentally expensive that solar, wind, and hydraulic are infinitely cheaper.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:29 PM on January 21


Carbon capture and sequestration technology does exist, and it does work okay, but yes, it's expensive. Power companies are fighting tooth and nail to shoot down any environmental rule that would force them to install it.

And even if they lose that fight, then we have to worry about what to do with the carbon we collect...
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:43 PM on January 21


How many homeless people are there in the entire US? Approximately 600K as it turns out.

It's not about lining up raw counts of poor people on each continent, and stacking the dice appropriately, like some grand economic game of Risk. Every individual human being, homeless or what you might call "merely" working poor, suffers for the relative economic inequality they experience, as each nation's cost indexes are baselined relative to overall wealth. In a wealthy city, like NY, even basic housing and food can cost many times what they would elsewhere. You have to make a lot more money just to live to the same standard as almost anywhere else. The numbers don't account for individual experiences of suffering, the cyclical effects and impacts on family and community of economic insecurity. It's not a contest, their poor against ours. Everyone has a stake in economic justice, and it's not an us or them situation unless we make it one, which would be silly.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:49 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


So I appreciate how thoughtful this letter is (it's like a good term paper in a development studies course), Gates even brings up aid critic William Easterly even though he doesn't seem to have really considered Easterly's critique. Tania Li's fantastic book on development projects in Indonesia -- The Will to Improve -- has a nice anecdote about a frustrated government official sidesteps her criticism about programs by saying "You may be right, but we still have to do something, we can't just give up." So Gates Foundation has great intentions, but development is messy and the results of such programs hard to predict. While I'm a big fan of global poverty reduction, the "development" paradigm has been profoundly problematic. Also, MattD's comment on the "low bar" set by Taiwan and South Korea, reminds me how frustrated I am when South Korea is trotted out as the famous poster child of aid/development. Korea's current economic success is very contingent, very dependent on Cold War politics, and very hard to replicate.

Can't resist adding my favorite quotation about development from Timothy Mitchell's classic, "America's Egypt: Discourse of the Development Industry"
Development discourse wishes to present itself as a detached center of rationality and intelligence. The relationship between West and non-West will be constructed in these terms. The West possesses the expertise, technology and management skills that the non-West is lacking. This lack is what has caused the problems of the non-West. Questions of power and inequality, whether on the global level of international grain markets, state subsidies and the arms trade, or the more local level of landholding, food supplies and income distribution, will nowhere be discussed. (emphasis added)
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:52 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


It's not about lining up raw counts of poor people on each continent, and stacking the dice appropriately, like some grand economic game of Risk.

This is, of course, true. Nothing is that simple. However, the stats I quoted are indicators of a level of poverty that, frankly, most people in the US cannot even comprehend. Generations of homelessness. Diseases that US doctors have only ever seen in textbooks.

You can agree to disagree, but poverty in the developing world is simply not comparable to poverty in the developed world. the situation of an orphaned child in the developing world, with no access to adequate nutrition, clean water, medical treatment or education, is not the same as an orphaned child in the US, who is likely to be in the foster care system which (while certainly no picnic) will see them fed, treated and educated. You aren't comparing apples with apples.

It's not a contest, their poor against ours. Everyone has a stake in economic justice, and it's not an us or them situation unless we make it one, which would be silly.

No, it's not a contest. But you can't properly address a problem unless you you actually, accurately understand the problem.

Anyway, this is getting derailly, so I'm out.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:36 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


>"By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been."

Except wealth inequality, amirite Billinda?


The world definitely is better than it has ever been for Bill and Melinda Gates.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:43 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Our very poor are just as bad off, in all the ways that matter, as the very poor anywhere else.

Ha ha, no. Whether you compare quantitatively or qualitatively, no.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:22 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Because I follow Canadian aid (i.e. frustrating litany of cuts and shift away from evidence based policy), I found Gate's interview abut the Gate Foundation report on CBC As It Happens interesting... diplomatic yet not really going along with the Harper Canada™ approach either. (podcast link).

When asked about cuts to Canadian programs funding women's reproductive health, he skirted criticism of how (badly) Harper's conservatives have handled this, and strongly affirmed the importance of women's empowerment and access to reproductive choices for a broader development.

When asked about the closure of CIDA and the shift of international aid to DFAIT, he just said "I hope you aren't suggesting this is a 100% shift away from aid, as we are working with the Canadian government on some projects" and then supported the importance of economic development while emphasizing that some types of work needs Aid, not business investment.

I admit I was ready to smirk about this story, and found I was wrong.
posted by chapps at 10:43 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Well, hopefully they are inspired to actual philanthropy. Not sure the Gates's are the best example - they have given a ridonkulously small percentage of the foundation's money to actual causes.

I can comment a little on this; I know someone who works at the Gates Foundation handling a portfolio of grants. According to her, there are at least two things constraining the flow by which funds could be granted or disbursed in a wider manner: infrastructure, and potential bad press from potential bad distributions of funds. Both go to the same issue, which is credibility. The Gates Foundation requires credibility to continue its efforts: with foreign governments, with the US Government, with aid organizations, with other potential donors, with basically everyone.

By infrastructure, I mean that very few entities are actually equipped to handle the kind of influxes of money the Gates Foundation is able to provide. Aid doesn't necessarily scale. If an organization is spending $250,000 a year helping X people in a given field, it isn't automatically true that giving them a budget of $1,000,000 will mean that 4X people will be helped. And managing a budget of $1 million is wildly different than a budget of $100 million. So you can't just dump money into a chosen cause and dust your hands off, it will basically clog the flow because of the overhead it will cause the donee organization.

Furthermore, the Gates Foundation is interested in focusing its efforts where it has a "competitive advantage" in the sense that it doesn't want to be doing things that, say, the Red Cross does, because the Red Cross already does that so well - the Foundation can't make the Red Cross better. So the Gates Foundation (generally speaking) gives in places where it has an "edge" in making sure that money is spent effectively. Example, work that involves lots of data crunching. Most times, the places where it has that "edge" is often filled with organizations that do not necessarily scale with more money.

As for bad press, this very thread amply demonstrates that Gates Foundation activities are heavily scrutinized by even casual observers. This forces the Gates Foundation to slow their giving to make sure they provide proper oversight, and don't donate in a way that gives them (or their donees) headaches from bad press. This matters materially when, for example, they are trying to convince foreign governments to aid them in their endeavors, or convince more elite rich to donate their fortunes.

I can't speak to the management of the Gates Foundation's endowment, but it's almost certainly better for the money to be managed there, than, say, dropping $250 million a year on a 6 person team that's been working on sanitation in rural India. What do you want them to do with that money? Buy everyone in rural India a new toilet?

The Gates Foundation bureaucracy is actually fairly worried about Warren Buffett's death happening too soon, which will result in the acceleration of the donation of the bulk of his fortune, which needs to be spent in a limited time (I think its within 10 years of the donation). It's actually hard to spend $30 billion in ten years in a responsible way, when you're not buying private jets or custom yachts or small islands.
posted by shen1138 at 12:52 AM on January 22 [11 favorites]


I'm assuming you've never actually seen or experienced rural Southern poverty in the US? Our very poor are just as bad off, in all the ways that matter, as the very poor anywhere else.

Man, you are so far wrong on this, I don't even know where to start. Aside from mentally-ill homeless that can't or won't use assistance, we don't have people living off of garbage dumps and wallowing around in human shit and living in corrugated tin-shacks.

I've been places where people are basically living off of rice and beans cooked on wood-burning stoves, and where people making $200/mo were considered middle class, where people only grow to be 5 feet tall and obesity is unheard of because there isn't enough nutritious food to eat, where you have children working in sweatshops so their families have food to put on the table, and people regularly die or are crippled from easily preventable illnesses because they don't have access to medical care. Poverty in the US is nothing like poverty in the rest of the world.
posted by empath at 2:23 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Korea's current economic success is very contingent, very dependent on Cold War politics, and very hard to replicate.

Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans makes a lovely point about this, that counters the feeling that development goes hand in hand with the neoliberal vision of free, extractive markets:

"As South Korea shows, active participation in international trade does not require free trade. Indeed, had South Korea pursued free trade and not promoted infant industries, it would not have become a major trading nation. It would still be exporting raw materials (e.g., tungsten ore, fish, seaweed) or low-technology, low-price products (e.g., textiles, garments, wigs made with human hair) that used to be its main export items in the 1960s. ... The secret of its success lay in a judicious mix of protection and open trade, with the areas of protection constantly changing as new infant industries were developed and old infant industries became internationally competitive. ... this is how almost all of today’s rich countries became rich and this is at the root of almost all recent success stories in the developing world. Protection does not guarantee development, but development without it is very difficult. Therefore, if they are genuinely to help developing countries develop through trade, wealthy countries need to accept asymmetric protectionism, as they used to between the 1950s and the 1970s. They should acknowledge that they need to have much lower protection for themselves than the developing countries have. The global trading system should support the developmental efforts of developing countries by allowing them to use more freely the tools of infant industry promotion – such as tariff protection, subsidies and foreign investment regulation. At the moment, the system allows protection and subsidies much more readily in areas where the developed countries need them. But it should be the other way around – protection and subsidies should be easier to use where the developing countries need them more."
posted by mittens at 4:49 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]


"By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world." --Bill Gates

Charles Kenny on the global working class uniting
Globalization may have been the watchword of the 1990s, but it's still a work in progress. As interconnected global markets get ever more interconnected, average incomes are converging. The last 10 years have seen developing countries grow far more rapidly than high-income countries, closing the gap in average incomes. Economist Arvind Subramanian estimates that China in 2030 will be about as rich as the whole European Union today and that Brazil won't be far behind, clocking in at a GDP per capita of around $31,000. Indonesia, he reckons, will see a GDP per capita of $23,000 -- about the same as tech powerhouse South Korea today...

In short, if developing countries continue growing at the rate we've seen recently, inequality among countries will shrink -- and inequality within nations will return as the dominant source of global inequality.

Does that mean Marx was right -- if just a couple of centuries off on his timing? Not exactly.

The reality is that this new middle class will have lives that Victorian-era working-class Brits could only dream about. They'll work in LED-lit shops and offices rather than in dark, hellish mills. And they'll live nearly 40 years longer than the average person in 1848 based on life expectancy at birth. But will they share common cause with their fellow factory workers an ocean away?

Maybe, but not because the barricade is the only option. Marx predicted that the global working class would unite and revolt because wages everywhere would be driven to subsistence. But as wages increase and level out around the world, the plight of the proletariat -- hard work, low pay -- today more than ever means easier work and better pay. And it's bringing hundreds of millions of people, in China alone, out of poverty. Clearly, the communist revolutions of the first half of the 20th century proved far, far worse for living standards than the well-regulated markets of the latter half.

But that doesn't mean Warren Buffett should breathe easily. In fact, it is exactly because the rich and poor will look increasingly similar in Lagos and London that it's more likely that the workers of the world in 2030 will unite. As technology and trade level the playing field and bring humanity closer together, the world's projected 3.5 billion laborers may finally realize how much more they have in common with each other than with the über-wealthy elites in their own countries.

They'll pressure governments to collaborate to ensure that their sweat and blood don't excessively enrich a tiny, global capitalist elite, but are spread more widely. They'll work to shut down tax havens where the world's plutocrats hide their earnings, and they'll advocate for treaties to prevent a "race to the bottom" in labor regulations and tax rates designed to attract companies. And they'll push to ensure it isn't just the world's richest who benefit from a global lifestyle -- by striving to open up free movement of labor for all, not just within countries but among them. Sure, it's not quite a proletarian revolution. But then again, the middle class has never been the most ardent of revolutionaries -- only the most effective. The next decade won't so much see the politics of desperate poverty taking on plutocracy, as the middle class taking back its own. But it all might put a ghostly smile on Karl's face nonetheless.
/middle class revolt-bourgeois revolution
posted by kliuless at 7:42 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


In fact, it is exactly because the rich and poor will look increasingly similar in Lagos and London that it's more likely that the workers of the world in 2030 will unite. As technology and trade level the playing field and bring humanity closer together, the world's projected 3.5 billion laborers may finally realize how much more they have in common with each other than with the über-wealthy elites in their own countries.

I think the claims may be exaggerated. Although hundreds of millions of people in China and elsewhere are escaping abject poverty, they are still extremely poor compared to the US and the West and competing for the same limited global resources.

Finite world: finite resources. Gates seems to be making the absolutely absurd suggestion that everyone in the world can, and should, hope for a level of human comfort that is in actuality completely unattainable (forget sustainable) if we're doing it for 6...

... billion (inserts pinky in mouth corner)

... people

Well, so we should aim for a sustainable level of human comfort for a sustainable population. It seems we may be learning that the planet simply can't support 6B-9B humans sustainably at any reasonable level of comfort without ending in catastrophe. If the prudent thing to do is lower the population to 1B or so, it starts with education and global solidarity to make this transition as just and fair as possible. And eliminating abject poverty is not counter to that, it is a necessary start.

/middle class revolt-bourgeois revolution

What's happening in Thailand as it has grown in wealth and transitioned towards democracy is fascinating. As I understand it, the ultra-rich Shinawatra's are allied with the very poor and the marginalized northerners against the middle class and more affluent southerners creating a lock on democratic power with an overwhelming voting majority. The democratic majority perhaps doesn't understand the need for checks and balances and minority rights enough, and is overly corrupt. The rising middle class is allied with the old aristocracy of the King against the "red shirts" and democracy to protect their wealth and society. The loss of the unifying power of the monarchy could be a huge psychological blow to the country, intensifying fear and distrust between factions.

Bangkok Deja Vu
Several authors have noted that Thailand’s political predicament appears to contradict the longstanding idea in political science that as populations become wealthier and more educated, they will become more democratic. In Thailand, the wealthy, urban middle class are perhaps the least supportive of democracy. It’s not the only place where this seems to be the case.
In Thailand, Standing Up for Less Democracy
More broadly, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a leading Thai scholar on the monarchy, argues that Thailand’s protracted political turmoil has been exacerbated by the contrast between a deified king and politicians who appear crass and venal in contrast. “We have an image of monarchy that is flawlessly excellent in everything,” he said in 2010. “If we had not built this image in the first place, we would not have so many problems and complaints with politicians.”
...
Anuchyd Sapanphong, a Thai soap opera star, recently posted on his Facebook page that he disliked corrupt politicians so much he wished he had been born during the time of the absolute monarchy.

“I don’t think we are suited for democracy right now,” he said on his page. “We don’t understand it that well — including me.”
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:57 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


soelo: "The article implies that AIDS research is taking away manpower from treating diarrhea, not that it is causing it:
"staff shortage in local hospitals, leaving more children susceptible to birth sepsis, diarrhea and asphyxia"
"

You may think that somehow you're rebutting my point, but you're actually buttressing it. Now AIDS research is only increasing child susceptibility to diarrhea... still horseshit, but now it's even fluffier, less tangible horseshit.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 PM on January 22


dontjumplarry: "Actually it *is* possible to transform the lives of the world's poorest without impacting our privileged lifestyles. The UN suggests it would cost only about $40 billion to provide food, health care and basic social services for the world's poorest people. A little over double that figure could more or less eradicate absolute poverty from the world. Raising $40 bn from the world's richest countries, or individuals, would hardly even be noticed."

Does that $40 billion include money for all the heavily-armed militia necessary to get that food, health care and social services to the poor in Afghanistan, North Korea, and numerous African countries?

Hint: it does not.

100 times that much money won't deliver the food to all the world's poor.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:23 PM on January 22


IAmBroom: I don't agree with the criticism, I just didn't think it was as ridiculous as you did. I was responding specifically to this: "first you have to prove that M&BGF funding of AIDS research has a causative effect on diarrhea". It doesn't sound to me like they are saying there is any causal link, but that spending too much time on X means you don't get to spend enough time on Y. I don't really agree with that, especially in this case when you are comparing research with patient care. The Brain Drain part seems a little more possible, but as a nonexpert, I assume that AIDS remains more of a mystery to us than diarrhea and that justifies more research.
Your link didn't bring me to a specific comment, but that is what I was replying to
posted by soelo at 7:51 AM on January 23


Want to end poverty? Brazil’s answer: Give people money
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:13 PM on February 2


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