Long-term economic progress comes mainly from the invention and spread of improved technologies. The scientific revolution was made possible by the printing press, the industrial revolution by the steam engine, and India’s escape from famine by increased farm yields – the so-called “Green Revolution.” Today’s era of globalization emerged with the spread of computers and the Internet. Thus, when we seek solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems, they, too, are likely to be found, at least in part, in new technologies that can resolve old and seemingly intractable problems.
Consider poverty in Africa. Every conceivable explanation has been given, usually focusing on what Africans do wrong. But a visit to Africa’s villages makes clear that the problems have more to do with the struggle for survival under difficult physical conditions than with any special problems that are unique to African societies.
Africa’s farmers produce roughly one-third or less food per hectare of farmland than their counterparts around the world, resulting in massive hunger, which is exacerbated by a heavy disease burden. Malaria poses a unique challenge, owing in large part to Africa’s mosquito species, which are especially adept at transmitting the disease. Other tropical parasitic diseases imply similarly extraordinary burdens in Africa. Add the practical difficulties of broken-down roads and few cars and trucks, and economic isolation follows. So the challenges of survival are enormous.