The other day I was heartened to read a statement of progress from of all people, philanthropist and businessman Bill Gates. We tend to think of poverty in the world as enveloping millions of people whose identities merge together into an impersonal blob. When we receive appeals to help the poor, we may have the sense that no progress is being made. From our perspective it seems that the same people and nations are always facing the same problems of drought, malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, and so on. What will our meagre resources do to help in this colossal task?
The statement of progress said the following:
By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.
Gates then goes on to challenge three myths people believe that can slow progress in helping people escape extreme poverty. You can read these in the 2014 Gates Annual Letter along with viewing pictures and graphs that show specific ways in which incomes, health and longevity have improved in most countries around the world.
I do not attribute all of the progress to sheer human effort, because I know that only with God's blessing can our meagre efforts attain anything. Neverthless, I am encouraged our global village has fewer neglected citizens. That sense of progress makes me more hopeful and, paradoxically, more generous.