Bill Gates predicts an end to  poor countries by 2035.

An optimistic Bill Gates predicts an end to poor countries by 2035. Pessimists fear the U.S. will be one before then.

By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull. Photo by Barb Knoff.

Anne Hull

Billionaire Bill Gates‘ recent prediction that by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world caught my eye. I can’t help wondering how much attention Mr. Gates has paid to theshrinking middle class in the United States, let alone how much understanding he has about what it’s like to be a member of a family with greatly diminished expectations, or that’s slid into poverty within the last five years.

Mr. Gates has every right to be an optimist. He’s taken great risks and, against the odds, come out a winner, at least financially. Throughout my lifetime I believed that most Americans were optimists, having faith in a better future. I’m not so sure a majority still feels that way, considering the state of the economy, our political paralysis, the proliferation of weapons in private hands in the U.S., shootings, and violence at home and abroad. For a number of reasons, we do not seem to be growing safer or more secure.

I once made a similar assumption for a story, “Standard Deviation” (originally titled “The Midler,” and dramatized for radio in Germany but never published in the U.S.). It was based on a December 1978 Analog science-fact article by John Gribbin, “Science Fiction is Too Gloomy,” which asserted that in 200 years we’d no longer have any of the problems we worried about at the time. Gribbin qualified his claim by assuring us that we’d have problems galore in 2178, they just wouldn’t be the same ones we fretted about then. All those problems would have come to a crisis and been solved, assuming the human race had survived at all.

So, for the purposes of my story, I waved the writer’s magic wand and assumed that major issues like global warming, pollution, overpopulation, food shortages and distribution, nutrition, access to education and technology, diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, all had been solved. What remained as a major problem in the story was the need all human beings seem to have to feel “special.” I might take a different tack if I were doing the story today, Although I’m still into food issues, these days I’m far more interested in feminism, human cultures, economics, politics, etc.

Pessimists worry that we won’t solve our problems and it will be the end of us, at least as we know human civilization and culture. Kurt Vonnegut wrote a comic novel, Galapagos, about human survival in a physically devolved state, wherein we had lost our big brains that had given us so many problems, and our progeny were now happily frolicking like porpoises in the water. It’s every bit as funny as Cat’s Cradle or Slaughterhouse-Five. We have to laugh so we don’t cry.


  1. Subrata Sircar says:

    Mr. Gates is speculating about poor countries – that is, countries that today can’t do things like feed people affordably, get them clean water, electricity, or medical care, and lift them out of a purely subsistence economy. When he says that there will be almost no countries like that in 2035, I believe him and am hopeful.

    The implosion of the middle class and the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the few in the US is cause for concern, but those are – currently – orthogonal issues.

  2. Jay says:

    What Gates is referring to is the deeply desperate poverty of those nations with per capita GDP of a dollar or two or three a day. And he acknowledges that there might be a small handful of exceptions, suggesting that parts of landlocked Africa might be the toughest nuts to crack.

    So he’s not saying that poverty will be eradicated, but that almost all nations will be at least in something like middle-class status. He’s predicting several more Ghana-like GDP’s, where famine is improbable, and far fewer Liberia-like or Democratic Republic of Congo-like GDP’s, societies which might easily collapse if not for outside assistance.

  3. H. E. Parmer says:

    [A] pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant.

    — Rex Stout

    As for Mr. Gates, he’s a very clever individual who’s had some mighty lucky breaks, but he’s still an ass. Some might say this is simply sour grapes on my part from many years of personal experience with Micro$oft’s crappy, buggy, overpriced and vulnerable software, both as a user and developer, but my biggest gripe with Gates has to do with his bankrolling the latest wave of “education reform”.

    I really don’t care if his intentions are good or not, but it’s just no longer possible to pretend that the reform movement is anything but a deliberate effort to destroy public schooling for the benefit of religious fanatics and deep-pocketed corporations. The former gets to create their own little madrassas where they can teach kids that science is their enemy and God loves ignorance. (Although experience has shown that many of them aren’t all that opposed to grifting in the name of the Lord, either). The education “industry” gets a new, dedicated, taxpayer-funded revenue stream to enrich the CEOs and stockholders.

    And the kids who aren’t lucky enough to be in a wealthy suburban school — and their teachers — get the shaft.

    I suppose it would be déclassé of me to point out that ol’ Philanthropic Bill’s company stands to make major bucks off computerized instruction.

    Sorry for the rant, but I get positively infuriated about this. The con couldn’t be plainer if they were trying to sell us magic money-multiplying machines. The only way it succeeds is by massive corruption, enabled by this “The Free Market does everything better!” mythology that’s drummed into our heads from the earliest age.

    A country that short-changes its children for the benefit of the already obscenely rich doesn’t deserve to survive, and it sure as hell won’t prosper.

    The sad thing about this future I find myself in is that it’s the dystopian visions in S.F. which seem to have best caught the shape of it.