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Gates: Don't buy into progress-blocking myths

Three underlying myths block progress for people living in poverty across the globe, business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates said Tuesday.

"[There's] a sense that these poor countries stay poor. There's a sense that most of the things we do to help go to corruption or waste, and that even if we could improve their health we might be working against our desire to preserve the environment," Gates said Tuesday during a web-exclusive interview. "We decided to take on these myths."

Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, debunks these misconceptions on poverty in his organization's 2014 Annual Letter, which focuses on three flawed foundations.

Myth 1: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.

Myth 2: Foreign aid is a big waste.

Myth 3: Saving lives leads to overpopulation.

The co-founder of Microsoft says incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa where pay intake has climbed by two-thirds since 1998.

"Aid and innovation are what lifted them up," Gates said. "In the next 20 years, we'll be down to very few poor countries." 

He continued: "It's amazing news."

Many people believe a country could save money by cutting foreign aid, which they deem useless, Gates said. But he contends that the money saves and improves lives effectively. The myth gives political leaders an excuse to attempt to slash aid, he added.

But in the United States, the government spends less than 1% of the country's budget on foreign aid, which is about $30 per American each year. The money is often allotted to health and infrastructure needs.

"The next time someone tells you we can trim the budget by cutting aid, I hope you will ask whether it will come at the cost of more people dying," Gates writes in the letter.

Additionally, saving lives does not lead to overpopulation, Gates argues in Myth No. 3. Creating societies where people enjoy basic health and fundamental equality increases a community's ability to secure sustainability.

"It makes sense that people are concerned about whether the planet can continue to sustain the human race, especially in the age of climate change," writes Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation. "But this kind of thinking has gotten the world into a lot of trouble. Anxiety about the size of the world population has a dangerous tendency to override concern for the human beings who make up that population."