"By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been."
In his annual letter, Bill Gates opens with a statement that I've been saying for a few years. In fact, my investment thesis begins with global peace and prosperity. It's amazing how many people snicker at this notion without ever taking a second to consider its authenticity or merits. (Of course, I've been ridiculed for reading income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements. There is so much misinformation out there, with less research and more rhetoric, than anytime I can remember.) Connect the dots, and in the end, the stock market reflects the current and future potential, as well as the prosperity of mankind.
It can get overbought and oversold, but the stock market's role as a barometer of human success never waivers for long. There was a time when the correlation was solely about the stock market and America's economy, but that's changed forever.
"Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient."
Last week one of the big news items came from the Treasury Department's revelation that China now holds $1.3 trillion of our debt, and Japan holds $1.1 trillion. It wasn't long ago that actress Sally Struthers pleaded with late night television viewers to give money to help the poor Chinese.
It's not just China, but many nations have come on strong after figuring out that they cannot look into the skies for bags of foodstuff to fall out of a C130 cargo plane forever. Bill Gates refers to historian James Burke's 'The Day the Universe Changed,' his book about the Renaissance and how quickly people reversed their state of decay.
The main difference here is most of these nations never had an imperial period to rediscover, or such glorious moments were too far past to serve as true inspiration.
Instead, these nations have looked to the West with admiration and envy, fueling a determination for self-reliance which rests in the DNA of all people, and has to be un-learned. Catching the West, especially America, is a daunting task; and no country will come close for a couple of decades, no matter how hard they try, or how badly we stumble. But the route to improved competition is so much easier today. There is less need for giant man-made holes and channels in the earth to lay expensive wire. Today's handheld smart phone has the computing power of NASA, when engineers toast their accomplishments with a glass of Tang.
"I am optimistic enough about this that I am willing to make a prediction. By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world."
I think Bill Gates' prediction about no poor countries is bold, but realistic. There will be a few panics and depressions between now and then. There will be more wars, and the South China Sea areas will become the global hotspot that could set off something momentous, such as a world war. But the blueprint is out there for all to see. The key is overcoming self-inflicted pain that comes with poor governments and unavoidable catastrophes. In the process, greater global competition will lead to better lives and livelihoods for everyone.
Three Great Lies
Bill Gates lays out the three myths about giving and the future of the world. My response:
POOR COUNTRIES ARE DOOMED TO STAY POOR:
While poor countries are not doomed to stay poor neither are rich nations ordained to stay rich. The Western world was so far ahead it seemed the pack would never catch up. Now, many former empires have fallen out of the top ten economies and one day soon, France will share the ignominy.
FOREIGN AID IS A BIG WASTE:
Foreign aid isn't a waste, but any long term aid that doesn't come with strings attached does more harm than good. Bill Gates addresses aid dependency in his letter, pointing to successes. The same principle is at work in America, which we will hear a pitch for during the State of the Union address that insists unlimited aid without onus on the recipient is smart and fair.
SAVING LIVES LEADS TO OVERPOPULATION :
This kind of thinking has been around since Malthus predicted the world would run out of food. I suspect the same enlightened minds that push for abortions and reject the notion of bringing children into this cruel world, must tell Gates this kind of nonsense at retreats in Aspen or the Hampton is Poppycock!
Can We Follow Script
I don't buy the guilt trips and hate; the argument that America is cheap, because our government gives "only" one percent of GDP, versus 2% given by the European nations. If Gates added up everything that comes out of America, the number would be much higher...plus one percent of $15.6 trillion is a lot of money. Bill Gates has put his money where his mouth is, and he deserves praise. His letter was mostly spot- on, except for the needling stuff. (By the way, don't get it twisted, Bill Gates is still an aggressive investor, and still wants to be the world's richest man.)
As for America being the world's richest country, maybe there's nothing we can do to stop an eventual fall from our pedestal. I used to vehemently argue with Jim Rogers on this point, but he swayed me with the help of history and a clear look at the determination of other nations. More recently, it's been the mindset of a nation at a crossroads that could hasten our dethroning. Ironically, there will be no poor countries, because they're all embracing the blueprint we devised.
If we return to basics, including respect for the Constitution, rule of law, less government, and fewer handouts without strings attached, our run could last longer; and in 2035, we will be able to beam with pride at having brought the rest of the world along, too.