Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund
My rating: 4.36/5
This book, written by Swedish physician Hans Rosling and published posthumously is an optimistic and fact based take on human development with a focus on health and medicine. Primarily written for a western audience this book assumes the prevalence of a premise of western superiority and then seeks to demolish it. As someone from a developing country, having grown up seeing India change and grow around me, having been witness to notably compounding and progressive improvement across generations in my own family, I wasn’t as surprised as the author expected the reader to be; as such I felt it intended to speak to a white person in a developed country.
Interestingly, Hans shelves terminologies such as developed and developing countries and adopts a more granular segmentation of population by income arguing that entire countries can be dumped into one developmental stratum. I really loved the chapter on population growth and conservation. He advocates for a data and evidence based view of the world and measurement of progress, even if snail slow, and emphasises on the compounding nature of economic/human development. He advocates for updating our world views since most of the world is very fast changing even within a 10 year span. Among myths he overthrows are views widely purported in Indian politics to justify domestic policies, such as correlation between religion and fertility to argue that some communities multiply faster. If you look at the data it seems evident that income, and not religion, is more steadily correlated with fertility since poor Christian countries such as Mexico have a higher birth rate than rich Islamic countries such as Iran/Turkey. The other impressive fact I loved is how educating women and empowering them socially and economically improves most indices of development and leads to fewer children as well. Educating women paves the way for many good things.
The commentary on American healthcare is also notable: the US has lower life expectancy and higher rate of sickness despite highest spending on healthcare. He argues that private health insurance in America only covers a section of the population who frequent hospitals for mild causes while non-insured masses with life threatening conditions get very little care due to affordability, leading to a wastage of money, resources and physicians’ efforts. This, he argues is a failure of the simplified free market theory which while simple and works in many scenarios, is used as a hammer on many problems in America that need more complex solutions.
As you read through this books, one gets many anecdotes from the development story in Africa where Hans spent several decades improving primary health. He also attacks many natural tendencies we have in extrapolating on data such as believing that most things progress linearly( straight line instinct). Another noteworthy fact is that most of the growth in the last two decades have happened in Asia, and their populations have opened up newer and exciting consumer markets for global businesses to cater their products to and expand their user bases in. It also presents an opportunity for institutional investors such as retirement funds that typical invest in Europe and North America.
Overall, it was a very useful read and would recommend it.