E. Calvin Beisner: Does Bill Gates Fail to See Himself in the World’s Growing Billions?

Bill Gates is a brilliant man. His combination of tech and business savvy not only made him one of the world’s richest people (currently, with a net worth of about $90 billion, #2 behind Jeff Bezos’s $112 billion) but also gave him the opportunity to be one of the world’s biggest philanthropists, chairing, with wife Melinda, the world’s largest private charitable foundation.

But brilliance in technology and brilliance in business don’t necessarily guarantee brilliance in other fields. I suspect Gates might not be quite so great at, say, molecular biology or cooking or football. It shouldn’t be remarkable, then, to find him saying some things that turn out mistaken.

Gates recently discussed what he called his “biggest fears about what’s coming next for this world.” They included:

  • antibiotic resistance,
  • cuts to government funding to improve health in the world’s poorest countries, and
  • the next unknown disease, referred to by the World Health Organization simply as “Disease X.”

Then he mentioned one more threat that he calls the “elephant in the room.” We’ll get to that, but first a few comments about these three.

Antibiotic resistance is a genuine problem, but it’s not unsolvable. Different antibiotics counter different bacteria, and because bacteria mutate relatively rapidly, they can develop resistance to them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue engineering new antibiotics to counter the new strains. It’s a challenge, not the crack of doom.

The fear of cuts to government funding to improve health in the world’s poorest countries seems historically a bit myopic.

Government health programs in the United States before the 1960s were few, small, and largely limited to providing safe drinking water (albeit still mostly unsafe by today’s standards up to the 1970s), sewage sanitation, and a tiny bit of infectious disease control. Life expectancy at birth worldwide and in the United States before the late 18th century (the start of the Industrial Revolution) was around 27 or 28 years. By 1850 it had risen to 38 years for white males and 40.5 for white females; by 1900 to 48 and 44 years (even after accounting for all the male deaths in World Wars I and II); and by 1950 to 66 and 72 years.

In other words, well before the start of major government health programs, Americans’ life expectancy had risen by about 35 to 57 percent. In the nearly 70 years since then, during which government health programs have multiplied, it has risen to 76 and 81 years—another 15 and 12 percent for males and females, respectively. Similar patterns have happened around the world, in most places with improvements beginning much later but occurring more rapidly as those societies implement off-the-shelf technologies that took decades to develop.

It seems likely, then, that other factors are more important determinants of health—of which life expectancy is the bottom-line indicator. Economic freedom could boost health more in today’s poorest countries than government programs. Health is a costly good, and wealthier people can afford more costly goods than poorer people. Bloated government—and health programs are among the biggest forms of bloat—slows economic development.

And then there is the fear of “Disease X.”

Well, sure—but since we don’t know what that will be, we must simply wait for its appearance and then see what we can do to counter it—either eradicating it (as we did smallpox and, mostly, polio) or greatly restricting its spread (as we’ve done many other diseases, like Ebola), or finding cures or ways to prolong vigorous life despite it (as we’ve done for AIDS). With our understanding of genetics and molecular biology, like our technology, advancing exponentially, is it likely that we’ll be less able to cope with “Disease X” than with previous new diseases?

So Gates’s three top fears are legitimate but not reasons for doom and gloom. So what about the “elephant in the room”?

It’s population growth, which dominates the second annual Goalkeepers’ Data Report from the Gates Foundation.

“The thing that is mind-blowing,” Gates says, “is if the demographers who have been very accurate on these things are right about Africa, then you are going from 1bn today to 2bn at middle of century, to 4bn at the end of the century.”

Actually, demographers’ predictions of population growth have generally erred badly on the high side, largely because they’ve failed to account adequately for two things: (1) how rising GDP per capita drives falling fertility rates for a variety of reasons including declining pre-adult mortality rates and rising costs of raising a child to independence, and (2) the incentive government officials in many developing countries have to exaggerate population (and minimize income per capita) to qualify for greater amounts of foreign aid (some of which they pocket).

But let’s assume that the high-end prediction—4 billion in 2100—is correct. Would that be disastrous? It would raise Africa’s population density from the present roughly 104 people per square mile to 297. That compares with the United Kingdom’s present 704, Germany’s 596, and France’s 316. Do you consider any of those “overpopulated”?

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Source: Christian Post