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The Myth of Countries Being Doomed to Poverty

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released its 2014 annual letter, which, rather than focusing on the foundation’s accomplishments over the past year or discussing its plans for the future, addressed three widely held beliefs regarding poverty.

The Foundation focused on eliminating these three myths: “Poor Countries are Doomed to Stay Poor,” “Foreign Aid is a Big Waste,” and “Saving Lives Leads to Overpopulation.” The letter deconstructs these myths, showing they are not only incorrect, but also highly detrimental to the progression of the fight against global poverty.

The idea that poor countries are trapped in a cycle of poverty is one held by people worldwide, especially those in the United States and other Western countries. While this belief that poor countries can never improve is deeply ingrained, it can be disproved through simple statistics.

In 1960, the majority of the global economy was focused in the West, with many of the countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America counting as among the most impoverished in the world.

Today, many of the countries formerly considered irrevocably poor, such as Mexico, Turkey and Chile have rapidly growing and thriving economies and according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “the percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990.”

Many countries that were once viewed as “developing” such as China and India have come so far that it is difficult to continue viewing them as such, even for those who subscribe to the belief that poor countries are doomed to remain impoverished.

While people may find it easy to accept growth in countries in Asia as well as North and South America, they have a harder time believing that life in Africa will improve in the future.

The fallacy that the quality of life in African countries remains stagnant or decreases persists despite the fact that “7 of the 10 fastest-growing economies of the past half-decade are in Africa.”

In addition to growing economies, health care quality and availability both increasing throughout Africa. Since 1960, in spite of the AIDS epidemic, the life span of women in sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 39 percent from 41 years old to 57 years old. Education is improving as well, with over 75 percent of sub-Saharan children in school since 1970.

While not every impoverished country is experiencing drastic improvement, it is irrational to view all poor countries as the same. So long as there are not inherent geographical difficulties, such as those the landlocked countries in Africa face, or a government that impedes their growth, as is seen in North Korea, impoverished countries have the ability to improve exponentially.

Poverty will inevitably continue across the globe, but it will decrease significantly in scope and severity as it has done over the past several decades.

In addition to dissolving the misguided belief that poor countries will never improve, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation examines why this myth must be reevaluated. This misinformation harms the fight against global poverty because no one will support a cause they believe to be pointless.

Cameron Barney

Sources: Gates Foundation, Forbes