back to article Mobile phones are the greatest poverty-reducing tech EVER

I have mentioned before around here that the mobile phone seems to be, in terms of reducing poverty, the finest invention humanity has ever come up with. Details of exactly how it does so are here, talking about sardine fishermen off Kerala, and my discussion of the overall economic effect is here, just to revisit that overall …

BillG vs Zuckerberg

Tim's article reminds me a bit about the BillG tirade against Zuckerberg a few years back (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/11/02/bill_gates_disses_zuckerbergs_world_internet_plans_as_a_joke/)

BillG postulates that developing a vaccine against malaria takes precedent over providing the poor with Internet access.

But... It is my understanding that malaria was eradicated from Europe as a consequence of increased wealth. Wealthier people tend not to share a bedroom with a dozen other people. As mosquitoes tend to stay within a small area, any disease it might spread, won't go very far.

An increase in wealth brings other benefits as well I'm told.

So BillG's tirade seems counter-intuitive, to say the least.

Basic infrastructure (and mobile communication is pretty much basic these days) is important.

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Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

"Basic infrastructure is important."

Perzactly! Sanitation (clean water, removal of wastes) so people stay alive, and communications (it was roads for us 400 years ago, phones now for Africa) so people can trade.

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Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

In my current part of the world (Sweden), the malaria mossies disappeared when the wetlands were drained in order to farm them. The last local case was in 1933.

Interesting given that wetlands are now being restored in various places.

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Pint

Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

BillG's blog page contains a quiz on your knowledge of the modern world. It's similar to Hans Rosling's similar quiz where random monkeys beat most humans.

I got 9/10.

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Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

Ok 9Rune5, just for the sake of it, I'll give you a counter-argument.

Mobile phones and internet access seem less important when someone you love is dying of malaria. It's not purely an emotive argument either. A sick person decreases a workforce's productivity. And those inconsiderate dead people make no contribution to GDP at all.

Technology and wealth will benefit a society but only the ones who are alive to enjoy it.

That all said, access to better medical outcomes and better technology are not mutually exclusive and both together will do more to improve lives than either one alone.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

Well if you can move 0.5% of a family out of a mud hut (year on year) in line with the internet's GDP contribution then good luck to you - but in the meantime, why not address the Malaria deaths happening right now?

Who knows - maybe fewer orphans and lower birthrates would also dramatically improve per capita wealth, huh?

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Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

In my mum's part of the world (Dhanbad, India where my grandfather was a mining engineer) malaria disappeared in WW2 when the American army arrived with DDT. Bit late for her sisters unfortunately. As you say, the link is with stagnant water not overcrowding. The Americans treated every non-flowing piece of water in the area and malaria stopped overnight.

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Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

If you, or a family member are dying from malaria, it might be quite useful to be able to phone a doctor to get help.

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Re: BillG vs Zuckerberg

I don't think there's "an answer" here. Sure, if someone's starving, then feed them. Malarial area? Try to kill the malaria of design a treatment for it.

But in the longer term it's really all about economic development (the weekend piece talks about this as well). Paul Krugman as said that productivity isn't everything but in the long run it's pretty much everything.

Being able to communicate increases productivity.

In this specific instance, comms v. malaria, there's actually no conflict. There's plenty of people (both charitable and for profit) willing to fun the best we can do for both.

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Anonymous Coward

"mobiles" != "mobile money"

"every 10 per cent of the population which has access to a mobile causes a 0.5 per cent rise in GDP"

But then it goes on to state that it is M-Pesa (a payments system) which is the cause of the rise, not the mobile per se, although the mobile is required to access it.

What's the growth rate for countries which have mobiles but no M-Pesa equivalent?

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Re: "mobiles" != "mobile money"

> But then it goes on to state that it is M-Pesa (a payments system) which is the cause of the rise

No it doesn't. You're comparing different numbers.

A 10% increase in mobile phone coverage in a developing country leads to a ~0.5% GDP increase per year.

M-Pesa generated a 0.5% GDP increase in Kenya over 7 years.

And M-Pesa is only running in East Africa, not the entire developing world. It's an example of one of the mobile-enabled causes, not the cause.

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Re: "mobiles" != "mobile money"

I guess it depends why those countries don't have an M-Pesa equivalent. We did have equivalents in this country, the likes of O2 Wallet, but they shut down because nobody used them, and nobody used them because we already have banks which do a better job of handling transaction services.

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Re: "mobiles" != "mobile money"

But not in a semi corrupt society - where the nearest bank may be several 10s of miles away; where getting a bank account is dependant on having a job in the legal economy and knowing the right people (and belonging to the right tribe). There's also a literacy (and to a lesser extent a numeracy) issue. If you can't write so can't sign your name ......

The mobile phone revolution also means people get a phone today - not wait for many months to get a dubious quality landline; and that only after paying considerable backshesh. And landline phones don't normally make it into the squatter camps (other wise coyly known as informal settlements to avoid upsetting westerners' sensibilities).

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Anonymous Coward

They are as they allow the sending of moneys home for great benifits of people.

Africa has been abused by the EU for decades, you think those farming subsidies are to help EU farmers or to stop farmers in Africa? I'm sorry but Africa isn't a desert no matter how much the TV tries to push this idea on me or anyone else with a brain. Fisherman? What product is produced in Africa that is used in the EU? Unless of course it's sharks caught with dogs in reunion.

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Pint

Sending money home

Includes from the big city back to the village, saving a couple days travel each time.

Modern tech obviously has vast benefits, if we're clever.

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African Products used in UK?

Coffee from Kenya and Ethiopia

Moroccan Dates

Salad stuff from Egypt

Cotton from Egypt

Sisal, Cloves and Vanilla from Madagascar

I am sure that others can add more.

AFAIK, Reunion is not technically Africa. It is part of France and one of the Indian Ocean Islands.

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Re: African Products used in UK?

A lot of garden veg and salad stuff is grown year round in Kenya and air freighted to Europe. Kenya also grows some of the finest tea you can lay your hands on.

West Africa, and Ivory Coast in particular, produce over two thirds of the worlds cocoa beans.

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jzl

Re: African Products used in UK?

Oil from Nigeria? Diamonds from Botswana? Minerals from the DRC? Baby sweetcorn from Kenya?

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Pint

Re: African Products used in UK?

Flowers. Many of the flowers that pass thru the Dutch flower market come from various countries on Africa.

Need. More. Trade. But please stop burning Bunker fuels to enable it. Best thing the world could do would be to enable more world wide shipping, while switching the ships to use much cleaner diesel.

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"What product is produced in Africa that is used in the EU? "

Most of the mineral content of your mobile phone is brought to you by the mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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A *lot* better than most foreign aid...

This is enabling a market economy as it ought to be done; from below rather than above. I imagine there are a few problems, but it is a heck of a lot better than the von oben solutions.

It will be fun to see what happens when small-scale solar power becomes a realistic solution in that part of the world. No infrastructure needed and plenty of sunshine.

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Re: A *lot* better than most foreign aid...

"It will be fun to see what happens when small-scale solar power becomes a realistic solution in that part of the world."

This will indeed be something absolutely fascinating to see. It's going to happen too. Solar is already cheaper than trying to wire up a country for the first time (not for vast factories maybe, but for domestic and light commercial). Akin to leaping straight to mobiles without the landline stage.

How umm, devolved? granular? dispersed? not really sure of the right word.....can an economy be?

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Unhappy

Extra, extra, thick Zog

I'm having a no-brain day. What's the one sentence summary of this article? Mobile phones cause growth? New widely available payment systems cause growth? How?

Sorry.

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Re: Extra, extra, thick Zog

"What's the one sentence summary of this article?"

Improved communications encourage growth through allowing actors in an economy to make better informed (and so more efficient) decisions.

As for how, that's less clear than the empirical observations that this does happen.

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Re: Extra, extra, thick Zog

"Improved communications encourage growth through allowing actors in an economy to make better informed (and so more efficient) decisions."

Thanks Dave^3. I get that. So, (in no particular order), like printing, railways, the telegraph, wireless, TV, t'Internet.

Not being sarky, just seeking clarification. Increased communications are a good thing.

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How to End Poverty in 15 Years on BBC2 this evening.

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Pint

Extreme poverty is already an endangered species.

But addressing it should be #1; balanced with environmentalism.

edit: Hans Rosling again. Guy should get a Nobel prize soon.

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Anonymous Coward

How to end poverty in 15 years

It is nice to see that the BBC blurb talks about Extreme Poverty.

The measurement of poverty is something like...

someone who has an income that is less than 50% of the average wage.

That is why some estimates state that 40% of the UK population lives in Poverty.

Someone has to be at the bottom as well as the top unless we want to live in an egaltarian utopia where everyeone has the same everything.

IMHO, poverty should apply to the bottom 10% of income earners. Eradicating that is possible.

Eradicating the poverty that the 50% who are supposedly living in poverty is an impossible dream. As soon at they earn more, the bar goes up bringing more and more of the population into poverty. Soon 90% of the population will be pretty comfortably off but offically living in poverty. Thats the poverty trap.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How to end poverty in 15 years

"The measurement of poverty is something like...someone who has an income that is less than 50% of the average wage"

I think you are confused. Obviously 50% of incomes are less than the median by definition. The median-based definitions to which you refer (I'm not supporting or defending them) are to people/households earning less than a defined fraction of the median, in other words they are about controlling how much the distribution spreads 'to the left" -- mathematically it is perfectly possible to have a distribution where no point is less than 60% of the median.

Conversely you state "poverty should apply to the bottom 10% of income earners. Eradicating that is possible." No, of course it's not; any distribution has a bottom decile.

BTW: even Adam Smith used a relative definition of poverty: "A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty, which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct. Custom, in the same manner, has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England."

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Angel

@JeffyPoooh -

Sorry, no Nobel for Rosling, it will go posthumous to Steve Jobs, the inventor of the iPhone the mobile phone the telephone verbal communication.

Right after his canonization. The pope is already on the way (maybe to bless the second coming of the messiah iPhone6 (S for saint?).

Coincidence?

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Re: How to end poverty in 15 years

In UK, the official measures for determining "poverty" to check whether children are living in an impoverished situation.

RELATIVE poverty is less than 60% of median HOUSEHOLD income (after tax/benefits), ADJUSTED for household size/composition

ABSOLUTE poverty is less than 60% of the 2010/11 median income value, adjusted for inflation/household size/composition

Absolute poverty in this case being a minimum acceptable standard of living, constant over time. Unlike the UN, where "absolute poverty" is when you can't afford food, shelter etc

Hence due to changes in rates of increase in income versus inflation currently a child might be in "absolute poverty" situation while not also being in a "relative poverty" which seems counter-intuitive

Full Fact are good for this sort of stuff.

https://fullfact.org/factchecks/economy/child_poverty_relative_absolute-48033

https://fullfact.org/economy/whats_happened_to_poverty_parliament-39908

PS Sorry about the CAPS, forgot how to use bold/italic etc

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Facepalm

Re: How to end poverty in 15 years

"IMHO, poverty should apply to the bottom 10% of income earners. Eradicating that is possible."

If 'poverty' is defined as a percentage it can never be eradicated

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How to end poverty in 15 years

But what *is* poverty?

I know what the official measure is (60% of median household income etc), but that's actually a measure of relative wealth.

Being poor means not having a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food on the table and sufficient heating in winter. It does not mean not having money to spend on the latest 50" HDTV or not being able to go to the cinema every week.

How many of those classed as being "poor" actually are poor and simply not rich?

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Re: How to end poverty in 15 years

The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably, though they had no linen. - Adam Smith

It's a bit late in the day to correct Adam Smith, but is that true? The Egyptians were famed for linen that was fine enough to be translucent. It's visible on some ancient paintings. I'd be surprised if the Romans didn't import either the textile or the technology.

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@ JeffyPoooh re: Rosling lecture on BBC2

I was struck by the simple conclusion that Rosling reached at the end of his excellent lecture last night: reducing extreme poverty (a clearly defined measure as opposed to a percentage below some median) leads to a reduction in birth rates. It came across as though simply crossing the threshold out of extreme poverty was enough to put average per couple offspring at around 2.

My understanding of co2 emissions is that they match global population growth so presumably if we can end global extreme poverty then we can approach a point where co2 production is stable rather than growing exponentially in line with the global population. It would be far easier to start to mitigate co2 production with a stable level of emissions.

I'd suggest that the apparently achievable goal of eradicating extreme poverty would give us the easiest environmental win and get the whole world to a point where we could actually start to do something that doesn't require an economically suicidal green fundamentalist agenda.

As pointed out by other commenters, less developed countries are exactly the kind of places where locally generated renewable energy sources are likely to make the most inroads due to a lack of existing infrastructure. Imagine: Africa as a new economic powerhouse with stable governance, able to fully realise the inherent potential in its human and natural resources.

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Re: Poverty is caused by...

"I.Q-wise, sub Saharan Africans have the lowest i.q in the world"

*citation needed*

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Re: Poverty is caused by...

"I.Q-wise, sub Saharan Africans have the lowest i.q in the world"

*citation needed*

Even if a citation is produced (which I think highly unlikely), it's almost certain to be a result of cultural bias in the IQ test.

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Re: Poverty is caused by...

I don't really care who the lowest is but it has long been documented that those in the west have a higher IQ than less developed parts of the world.

There is much debate over why this is, particularly in the more distant past as you might imagine.

The IQ test itself does not show bias and certainly wasn't designed to but it's easy to argue it's is not perfect. Whilst highest IQ people do not run our top companies, government etc, there is a general correlation.

IQ is also documented as rising over time. We are more intelligent (or higher IQ, anyway) than our ancestors.

It may be that a more western lifestyle - good and/or adequate nutrition helps.

It may also be that familiarity with technology and access to information promotes logical thinking and this training affects the result.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Poverty is caused by...

High IQ doesn't make one as smart as one might think.

Mensa, the high IQ society, was intended to be for the Top 1% in measured IQ. Unfortunately, the founders messed up and accidentally set their baseline to the Top 2%. Oops. (Ref. book 'Mensa' by Victor Serebriakoff)

Note: I was once a member. Dropped out. Found them to be a bit boring.

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Re: Poverty is caused by...

"IQ" is not meaningful unless you define what you mean by 'Intelligence', since there are many different types of intelligence. As another commenter mentioned above, IQ tests are sometimes culturally biased, but more importantly they generally biased towards several types of intelligence, mostly cognitive/logical types, while ignoring or giving lower weighting to other types such as physical and emotional intelligence.

For example it takes incredibly high processing power for a sports(wo)man to track multiple moving targets in real time, regulate their own movements accordingly based on these external inputs plus knowledge about game rules and game state/score, and implement that physically to reach the desired outcome.

There is no objective way to properly score/weight one type of intelligence against another. At best one can say that a person's intelligence is better or worse for a specific task at hand.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Poverty is caused by...

Test devised by Westerners gives higher scores to Westerners. I am so amazed.

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Sure there is a cultural bias

IQ is biassed towards the sort of thing that tend to make a person "successful" in a modern Western setting: the ability to learn, creative problem solving etc.

Now one can argue that there are different sorts of intelligence. eg. the stuff that makes you successful when being stalked by a lion or when you're in subsistence agriculture, but that's different. Pick a person from that setting and they're probably not going to be successful in a modern Western setting. Take a modern Westerner and toss them out in the savannah and they will struggle.

Humans, like all organisms, adapt over many generations to their environment. It's called evolution. A brain is an expensive organ to develop and feed. To think that evolutionary effects will give Ethiopians long legs, but would not impact on brain differences is absurd.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Poverty is caused by...

"IQ is also documented as rising over time"

There are a number of proposed reasons for this.

First, there is less acute child poverty and better facilities around childbirth, so less stunting and brain damage at the lower end.

Second, since the development of IQ tests the educational system has increasingly been geared to do well on IQ tests.

And third, IQ tests abstract reasoning. Modern children have increasing exposure to abstract devices, aka computers, as a result of which they are more comfortable with abstraction.

Anyone who thinks that IQ tests are not culturally biased needs to understand that the bulk of cognitive psychological research has been carried out on white Western students. My supervisor even got flak for having done research using naval ratings, because their results were different from the "norm". Psychologists not only tended to be very culturally biased, they did not want the bais removed for fear of invalidating their published work.

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Re: Poverty is caused by...

Imagine a world where "poverty", defined as "people having less than 10% of the median income", was eradicated.

Now, in this world there are still going to be people on or just barely above that 10% threshold. But hurrah, because no-one is below it, so "poverty" is gone, right? Except that on the very same day this victory is announced, one of those "on the line" people has a baby. And now the income per person for their family - assuming 2 parents, no previous children, and no change to earnings - has gone down to 6.67% of the magic median figure, and behold, "poverty" is back.

The only way to avoid that would be either to pay a substantial government benefit to everyone, from birth, or to redefine your goal as bringing everyone above a substantially higher basic threshold - say, 25% of the median as a stable state, with the goal of never dropping below 10% under any circumstances. Both of these answers introduce significant new challenges of their own.

I'm not saying it can't be done, or that it shouldn't be done. I'm saying that the simplistic answers and slogans thrown around the subject are just that - simplistic - and should be treated with disdain.

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The sole contributor to growth in SSA?

Possible, seems unlikely to me. Apart from anything else, I'd be very surprised if the extensive transport investments made in the region aren't also having a similar effect - given that they're both improvements in communications infrastructure in the area. There's no reason to think that there aren't brakes on growth too, so while the proliferation of mobile phones might be the same size as the total, it's likely not to be the only contributor.

Which means, of course, that the governments in the region are _still_ holding their people back.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The sole contributor to growth in SSA?

Yes, it must be M-PESA, rather than China's large investments there made as a means to help get the resources out of central Africa.

OK, so I'm being a bit cynical, I have no doubt that mobile communications have provided a massive boost, since they help disseminate information rapidly. I remember using the Internet over modem and it was still awesome.

I remember watching a TED talk by a guy who worked for a census NGO in Indonesia(?) who was looking at improving the IT and found that even text messaging had already had a massive impact in improving the rate of collection and dissemination of information.

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Bank Shareholders

They may not have been wiped out but speaking as an HBOS shareholder they reduced from a 'nice little sum' to 'kids pocket money.'

As was perfectly correct. The bank failed. Shareholders lost money.

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Re: Bank Shareholders

I'm certainly in favour of hanging more than a few bankers but keeping in place the "system". These bankers behaved as crooks yet their penalties have been negligible.

Tim,

Perhaps you can explain one day why we have a system where robbing a old lady will get you more porridge than bringing down an economy. I'm all in favour of higher risks = higher rewards but so should be the costs of screwing up.

As an HBOS shareholder I now vote systematically against the board of directors whenever I get a AGM because by and large these directors are rarely fit for purpose.

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Re: Bank Shareholders

For many years my Northern Rock shares paid more in dividends than the interest on my deposits. And they were worth a tidy sum in 2006. And then…

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