We use emotion-fueled “instincts” and sensational stories to frame a binary state of the world. Developed vs. Developing. Rich vs. Poor. West vs. East. These binary frameworks make for simpler narratives and comfort us while labeling others. I have been guilty of this assumption too.
Last weekend, I read Hans Rosling’s wonderful book “Factfulness: Ten Reasons we are wrong about the world – and why things are better than we think“. And, found out how wrong I was!
Using a rich set of facts, he argues that the “Developed” vs. “Developing” notion was revelant in 1965! Not anymore. The world can be better understood through the lens of income-level can be divided into four groups. Borrowing some words from Bill Gates blog on the book, here are the four levels.
Level 1: One billion people live on level 1. This is what we think of as extreme poverty. If you’re on level 1, you survive on less than $2 a day and get around by walking barefoot. Your food is cooked over an open fire, and you spend most of your day traveling to fetch water. At night, you and your children sleep on a dirt floor.
A young Malagasy girl carries a child on her back. flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/ricephotos/2709827010/in/photostream/
Level 2: Three billion people live on level 2, between $2 and $8 a day. Level 2 means that you can buy shoes and maybe a bike, so it doesn’t take so long to get water. Your kids go to school instead of working all day. Dinner is made over a gas stove, and your family sleeps on mattresses instead of the floor.
A Chinese bicyclist with a small child in tow. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Level 3: Two billion people live on level 3, between $8 and $32 a day. You have running water and a fridge in your home. You can also afford a motorbike to make getting around easier. Some of your kids start (and even finish) high school.
Reem Jamil Asi dances with her groom, Samer Samir Tarifi during their wedding party in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestine. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Level 4: One billion people live on level 4. If you spend more than $32 a day, you’re on level 4. You have at least a high school education and can probably afford to buy a car and take a vacation once in a while.
More Good Foundation
As Bill Gates says, the bulk of Factfulness is devoted to ten instincts that keep us from seeing the world factfully. These range from the fear instinct (we pay more attention to scary things) to the size instinct (standalone numbers often look more impressive than they really are) to the gap instinct (most people fall between two extremes). With each one, he offers practical advice about how to overcome our innate biases. I will come back to some of these instincts in my ongoing case for optimism that I started with the “Fatal flaw of Pessimist” blog.
Factfulness has changed my view of the world. I am moving to an income-based vocabulary. The World Bank now uses a similar four-tiered system to talk about income levels, too, I hope you have a chance to read Factfulness too!