- Hunter College
- During a live Q&A in New York City on Tuesday, Bill Gates said that he feels optimistic that the world is getting better.
- There is positive data to support his claim.
- Gates added that although global heath is “under attack” in the Trump era, he still believes future generations will be better off than past ones.
On Tuesday, Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and billionaire-philanthropist couple Bill and Melinda Gates shared a stage at Hunter College for a question and answer session.
Miranda’s opening line for the Gates’: “I’ve read your annual letter, and you are more optimistic now than you’ve ever been about the state of the world. I open Twitter with my hands covering my eyes every morning. For those of us who don’t necessarily share your enthusiasm or optimism, please convince us.”
Gates replied that, by almost every objective measure, he believes the world is getting better.
“It doesn’t happen automatically. It’s because people care. It’s because of scientific inventions. One key thing that Melinda and I focus on is reducing the number of childhood deaths. When we got going [in 1990], about 12 million kids were dying a year under age 5. Now, because of vaccines and things we’ve done with partners, that number is around 5 million … If we make progress in the next 25 years, we’ll cut it in half again.”
There is more data to support his claim that the world is improving. In 1990, more than a third of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, but it’s now down to about one-tenth. More children than ever before (over 90%) also attend primary school today. Plus, over 100 countries have laws that protect LGBT people, and a rising number of women are running for and taking public office worldwide.
Later in the event, Miranda asked how the Trump administration’s policies have affected the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation’s work. They replied that, while Trump’s moves to reduce foreign aid have hindered poverty, health, security, and hunger abroad, they are confident the world will continue to make progress on these issues.
“Now, [foreign aid] is under attack. If US generosity goes away, even a 10% cut would be 5 million deaths over the next decade. The fact that that is being questioned by the executive branch – fortunately Congress has kept it in place – that means we have to go explain [to the Trump administration], even in a very narrow view of, ‘Is this good for Americans?’ These investments – even in that ‘America First’ mindset’ – are still very wise.”
Melinda Gates noted how foreign aid makes up less than 1% of the federal budget.
“Yet it is so vital to keeping peace and security around the world,” she said. “And it’s also vital in terms of keeping disease from coming into our own country.”
The Trump administration’s proposed 2019 budget includes a 29% slash ($17 billion) in spending for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development. The proposal calls for increasing military spending and maintaining foreign-aid levels for just one country, Israel.
In the Gates’ 2018 letter, they wrote that Trump’s “America First worldview” worries them.
“It’s not that the United States shouldn’t look out for its people,” Bill Gates wrote. “The question is how best to do that. My view is that engaging with the world has proven over time to benefit everyone, including Americans, more than withdrawing does. Even if we measured everything the government did only by how much it helped American citizens, global engagement would still be a smart investment.”
Nevertheless, Gates said scientists, medics, and social nonprofits should congratulate themselves on the ways they’ve alleviated global suffering.
“The world should be proud,” he said.