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Image: Bill and Melinda Gates Letter Debunks World Poverty Myths

By Elliot Jager

Bill and Melinda Gates have released their foundation’s annual letter, which instead of sketching out their worldwide philanthropic agenda for the coming year aims to debunk three public policy myths about poverty.

The Gates Foundation letter argues that it is not true that “poor countries are doomed to stay poor,” that “foreign aid is a big waste,” or that “saving lives leads to overpopulation,” Forbes magazine reported Tuesday.

Bill Gates writes that most countries “we used to call poor now have thriving economies. And the percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990.”

Gates is not saying poverty and inequality will disappear. Overall, though, he is optimistic for all countries except those “held back by war, politics (North Korea, barring a big change there), or geography (landlocked nations in central Africa).”

Regarding foreign aid, Gates says the belief that U.S. aid does not work “gives political leaders an excuse to try to cut back on it — and that would mean fewer lives are saved, and more time before countries can become self-sufficient.”

It also does not cost a lot, he notes. The U.S. spends less than one percent of its annual budget on foreign aid, he says, or about $30 billion. Gates breaks that down to $11 billion for public health and $19 billion for infrastructure.

While he acknowledges that aid is sometimes stolen by corrupt local government officials, he notes that corruption is just as bad if not worse in the United States.

“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,” he writes.

For her part, Melinda Gates tackles the myth that saving lives makes the planet unsustainable.

“Saving lives doesn’t lead to overpopulation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Creating societies where people enjoy basic health, relative prosperity, fundamental equality, and access to contraceptives is the only way to secure a sustainable world,” she writes.

The Gates Foundation disbursed $3.4 billion in grants during 2012, and has given out more than $28.3 billion since 2006 for various programs around the globe.

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