Monday, August 17, 2009

Innovation increases quality of life even when incomes lag

Global improvements in quality of life have been fostered by the spread of technology and ideas. Very cheap health technologies that can dramatically reduce mortality have spread rapidly across the world. The proportion of the world’s infants vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus –the DPT shot—climbed from one fifth to nearly four fifths between 1970 and 2006. And ideas that save lives –wash your hands, don’t defecate in the fields you eat from—are increasingly accepted.
That is from the summary of a forthcoming book by Charles Kenny. Charles argues that the standard of living in developing countries has increased much faster than growth in income because of innovation, which has driven down the cost of goods and services that contribute to quality of life.

There is plenty of bad news about development, including the sharp divergence in incomes across the world, yet there is also much progress:
The book argues that ideas and technologies are the driving forces behind progress. And it suggests what the success of development and the importance of innovation to that success mean for policies in and policies towards the developing world.
The other good news is that innovation can be much less expensive than massive aid projects. Yet official and other large aid agencies struggle to find ways to support innovation because catalyzing innovation requires a different mindset and different tools.

I strongly recommend reading Charles's summary (it is only one page) if you want to get a quick overview of what we know about development.

And thanks to Bill Easterly for the tip - see his blog post on it here.