Bill Gates published his annual letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this week, focused on debunking three myths that the ex-Microsoft boss says are blocking progress for the poor across the world. In it, Gates says that although many people think "the world is getting worse," it's actually "better than it has ever been." But Gates also thinks we need to keep actively helping those in need. "The belief that the world can't solve extreme poverty and disease isn't just mistaken. It is harmful."
The letter is designed to both explain the realities of the US aid budget, and to protect that budget from being cut. "When pollsters ask Americans what share of the budget goes to aid," Gates says, "the average response is 25 percent." When those same people are asked how much the government should spend on aid, people tend to say 10 percent. The actual figure is less than one percent of the budget. Gates breaks that 1 percent — roughly $30 billion — down further. $11 billion is spent on health, the vaccines, drugs, bed nets, and other life-saving items that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation centers much of its attention on providing, giving a figure of around $5,000 "per child saved."
Less than 1 percent of the US budget goes to development aid
Particularly notable in the letter is an indirect criticism of the government's apportioning of its budget. Gates juxtaposes the amount spent on aid against farm subsidies — given twice as much of the budget as development aid — and the military, which receives 60 times as much funding, against that spent helping those less fortunate. He ends his letter on a call to action. "The next time someone tells you we can trim the budget by cutting aid," Gates says, "I hope you will ask whether it will come at the cost of more people dying."