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April 23, 2009

How Much Has Technology Mitigated Poverty and Enabled More Personal Freedom?


Michael Anissimov discusses the idea that self-replicating factories, fed perhaps by acetylene, water, and the Sun (nanofactories) can lift most restrictions on freedom that come from finite resources.

Michael refers to a piece by Peter Thiel that technology can enable Libertarianism.

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself “libertarian.”


The ICT Development index for 2009 captures the level of advancement of ICTs in more than 150 countries worldwide and compares progress made between 2002 and 2007. It also measures the global digital divide and examines how it has developed in recent years.

The two charts show that countries that have only 25-50% of the per capita income of a wealthier country are only 5 years or so behind in telecommmunication deployment. However, a digital divide still exists and the poorest countries are not doing great.




India has some of the lowest cost cellular and internet access. India has leveraged telecommunications to create industries that increase the wealth of its people and to lift people out of poverty.

Since 2007, about 1 billion cellphones have been added and mainly in the developing world. There are now 4.1 billion mobile phones in the world.

There is a book that considers the impact of the mobile phone. "Blurring Livelihoods and Lives: The Social Uses of Mobile Phones and Socioeconomic Development"

Various articles indicate how mobile phones are creating opportunities for people in poor places to earn a living and improve the quality of their lives.

Recently cellphones have been used to spread medical information and provide remote diagnosis.

A cellphone microscope will enable disease diagnosis and has uses for improving agriculture.

Technology is enabling super cheap paper based medical tests.

It seems clear that technology can and is making a significant impact on lives, quality of life and mitigation of poverty.










Here is a case study of mobile phone effect on poverty in Uganda from 2008


There is a major willingness to pay now and see an improvement of their lives later. The perception of long-term improvement pushes both the landless and homeowners to invest in mobile phones.

One explanation for this is that mobile phones give people a sense of opportunity.
No other expenditure in a household budget offers such potential for dramatic immediate change like this communication device. While improved access to food and sanitation would improve their livelihoods, if there is no mechanism to sustain or pay for these amenities, the poor remain in the same dire circumstances. Houses take a long time to build and large capital investments are not readily available to the poor. Improved food access and sanitation and new housing do not immediately help to improve job prospects nor move households to the next knowledge economy. All across Africa many developing countries are finding their citizens investing in mobile phone technology before meeting the needs of improved sanitation, water, health, housing and education. Citizens are creating a new form of development by improving the access to markets and jobs and are willing to make small short-term, unpleasant sacrifices if an economic improvement in their livelihoods can be seen with the mobile phone.

Mobile phone can also assist households when faced with unpredictable shocks
which drive poverty. The probability of the family incurring drastic loss due to an
unpredictable shock are mitigated and lowered when families are able to respond to the shock in more timely manners. The mobile phone can have the greatest effects on
poverty reduction during vulnerable shock experiences through driving down costs
associated to the shock. The families thus better financially manage and cope with the situation, incurring lower travel costs, more efficient action, improved access to information and less trauma. Immediate outcomes of income savings and cost mitigation are found particularly during vulnerable situations like death or illness in the family. Security increases for all families through reduced loss of property. A family’s ability to lower the number of overnight hospital days or ability to avoid transport cost during desperate situations are major cost saving strategies implemented with the quick dial of the mobile phone to their family. The mobile phone helped mitigate the depth of poverty experienced and reduces many costs which used to burden the poor. In the case before mobile phones, families would spend tremendous cost on travel and time in contacting family members about a funeral or sickness.


FURTHER READING
Using technology to combat poverty

Can Technology eliminate poverty How technology can be used for ramping up microfinance.

Top 8 poverty busting technologies

1. Solar panels
2. Vacutug (clean public toilet)
3. Condoms
4. Two wheels (bicycle)
5. Smarter crops
6. Mobile phones and the internet
7. Pepsee (disposable plastic tubes used for irrigation)
8. Television

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