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What’s it like to live on less than $2 a day? (gatesnotes.com)
192 points by undefined1 on Sept 7, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 156 comments

I did this in college for a week as part of a $2 dollar a day challenge for a student microfinance club. I knew well enough that it was near impossible to do it accurately in the U.S. where costs are inflated for basic things, and I also was discounting things like my tiny rent and what not, but I wanted to just go through it once as an exercise.

I had $14 and I used most of it to stock up on dry beans. I think I ended up with around one and half meals a day, basically of nothing but beans and rice. I didn't last the full week.

For about a year I lived off ~$16/week(not including rent) here in Sweden (which is not known as a cheap country to live in). I could just about get by and put away some meager savings. But those savings were continuosly lost to random unforeseen expenses in the $20 range.

In my opinion it's not possible to live like that for any longer stretch of time. As soon as an emergency presents itself, you're wiped out and end up destitute. I had the luck of being young and mentally and physically healthy, and I only had to provide for myself. That being said, it wasn't an easy time for me. 1/10 would not recommend.

I wonder if this would get a lot easier with a group. Like, is it easier for 50 people to survive on $100/week of food than for one person to survive on $2. Obviously not practical for most western lifestyles, but I'm just imagining the various economies of scale around making a big pots of soup, chili, hummus, baking bread, etc. All of these things are labour intensive but can be done extremely cheaply if you're working from raw materials and your fixed costs (tools, equipment, etc) are covered.

> I wonder if this would get a lot easier with a group. Like, is it easier for 50 people to survive on $100/week of food than for one person to survive on $2.

Yes, and this is basically the financial norm for the poor. Everyone has some money coming in, and the precise amount varies, as does the need for money ("unforeseen expenses in the $20 range"). So large families provide financing internally; when you have less money to hand than you need, you get help from your extended kin, and when you have more than you need, it goes to help your kin.

This is often phrased as "borrowing", but it isn't really; these transfers aren't supposed to be paid back.

When variations in income and expenses are backstopped by a group of dozens of diversified people, you can live right on the edge of your average earning power. When you're a single atomized person, you have more need for a buffer of savings, because your income and expenses are so comparatively erratic.

To be fair, $2 probably goes a little farther in Africa than the US or Europe.

$2 a day in the US is impossibly little. I'm almost sure that food stamps would equate to more by itself.

Not impossible, I know people who did this and had fun. Hitchhiking, camping and dumpster diving (getting food from supermarket containers).

A variant is the food stamp challenge where you limit food to the standard allotment of about $6 a day. If you can get a whole month upfront, you can make bulk purchases as others point out. Also you probably need to cook most food from scratch and avoid convenience food and eating out.


I have read several stories where celebrities struggle with this for a week.

And that’s spending all your money on food, leaving nothing for anything else!

Could you guys share some strategies? The parent talks about beans. I wonder what Eyght did.

You can feed yourself for $2 a day in the US, not live on tho. But you can do that much easier if you have money upfront from the beginning instead of getting $2 every day. Let's say you have $60 in the beginning of the month. You can buy a 25lb of rice for $10-$15. You can then do the same for beans and you would have spent $20-$30. Some spices salt, pepper, thyme, onions and vegetable oil. Then if you're feeling really luxurious chicken. Buy multi vitamin to make up for what you're missing. Go to vegetable / farmers market while they are about to shut down and you can make out like a bandit for $5. Tons of vegetables or fruits they don't want to take home with them.

I work in an Indian Grocery Store & none of the tens of types of rice are $15 for 25LB. The cheapest is $15 for 20LB.

Edit: Thanks for the price lists of Big Stores. I only have info about Indian Grocery Store.

It has been more than a decade when I did this, but as late as 3 years ago, you could buy a 25lb rice for $10. Of course inflation and good economy and tarrifs have probably pushed up prices.



BJ’s 25-pound bag of rice is $9.89.

Costco’s 25-pound bag of rice is $9.49.

Sam’s Club offers a 20-pound bag for $7.23.

Winner: Pound for pound, Sam’s Club’s rice comes in cheapest at 36 cents per pound — even though it’s in a smaller bag!


BJ’s has 10 pounds of dry pintos for $6.42.

If you’re looking for canned, prepared beans, BJ’s has a pretty decent deal on an eight-pack of 16.5 ounce Bush’s — they’re $9.59 at my club.

Costco has a 10-pound package of black beans for $13.69 — it may have been out of pintos the day I went!

Its Bush’s eight-pack of 16.5-ounce cans is just $8.99, however.

Sam’s Club’s 10-pounder of pintos is $5.79. It carries the same package of Bush’s for $8.98.

Assuming you can't go to direct barter, at $2/day you can no longer really ask someone else with specialist knowledge to do things for you as you have no way to compensate them.

You'd basically have to grow your own food, deal with getting some land to live on without paying rent, and the $2 couldn't go to daily expenses, it'd need to be saved up for basically capital expenses and surprises.

Realistically, you'd need a close-knit community of similar people in a commune-style setup.

I mean, $2/day for food probably doesn't get you a healthy number of calories after adjusting for surprise expenses. So alternatives must be found.

The holy grail of cheap food is Italian. You can buy a large bag of noodles for pennies sometimes, and making sauce is cheap, but even pre made canned sauce is cheap enough to fit the $2 a day challenge. (If not $1 a day depending on where you shop.)

If you're desperate or just old fashioned, peanut butter goes a long way. Cheap day old sandwich bread or bagels found at a bakery, and cheese, like cheddar cheese slices, make $1 a day feasible. Bananas can sometimes be pretty cheap too.

Likewise, it's super cheap to bake food at home. This is how people ate during the great depression. They'd make pancakes, waffles, and other sorts of items. I don't know what the price of Bisquick is because I just make this kind of thing from scratch when I'm in the mood, but it's mostly the price of milk. Some items take an egg, but eggs tend to be optional when it comes to breakfast cooking, especially if you're making Swedish pancakes (so good!) or crepes or similar.

Then there is the standard:

- Rice

- Corn chips and beans

- Vegetables are cheap, and quite good steamed or as a stir fry.

- Potatoes. They can be had for cheap, are quite filling, and left over potatoes from dinner can be used for breakfast. eg, mashed potato biscuits.

- Chicken can be quite cheap, but you'd be using very little. You can make a soy chicken, veggy, rice dish on the cheap, for example.

- And as odd as it sounds, there are a lot of stack foods and dessert foods you can get in super markets that are filling compared to their cost. Eg, pretzels or Doritos. A larger bag is around $2 and can be broken up into multiple meals. Or, eg, at Trader Joe's they have a box of pralines for $2 that can fill one up for a day. These foods can add variety to the cheaper foods (like rice) by eating a bit a day.

And, possibly the most surprising bit, if you're living it up, at $3 a day: Trader Joe's has frozen pizzas for $2.95 that are not only quite good, one pizza fills me up for an entire day. They have tv dinners for $2 or $2.95 too, but most of the time I'll eat multiple meals a day, so this kind of premade food comes closer to $4 to $6 a day without necessarily trying to be cheap. Trader Joe's has good cheap food.

Ultimately, if you want to take on a challenge like this, be prepared to buy everything in bulk, and be prepared stop eating meat, or eating very little meat.

edit: Oatmeal and Cream of Wheat. A meal is ~20 cents and it will fill you up.

Ultimately, if you want to take on a challenge like this, be prepared to buy everything in bulk, and be prepared stop eating meat, or eating very little.

Agree on the meat, however: Most folks that are poor simply cannot buy in bulk. If you are lucky you get paid once a month, but getting paid once a month also limits how often you can eat fresh vegetables. Canned might be your only option. If you don't get paid once a month, it doesn't matter if it is cheaper to buy 12 rolls of toilet paper if you can only afford the 4-pack. Or you might be able to afford bulk at tax time, but as soon as an emergency comes up, you can no longer buy bulk.

Not only this, but things like transportation and storage become an issue. You may or may not have cold storage, freezer space, or containers to store leftover/bulk food in. You may or may not have a vehicle of any sort to carry the stuff in. Even if you have transportation, you might not have the money to use it (or public transportation, if that is a thing where you live).

I'll mention that the unfortunate bit of $2 per day doesn't actually include only groceries, but other necessities as well. I don't know what the amount is in the states, but wherever it is, it doesn't leave a lot of room for anything but the most basic food. No spices. No chips since you can buy beans (or lentils!) and rice that last for multiple days cheaper than you can buy the bag of chips.

Most of the foods I mentioned above you can't buy in small quantity. Eg, you can't buy a single slice of bread.

Bulk here meaning usually 1 weeks worth of food. Small enough the average person buys in that quantity, including people who are paycheck to paycheck.

>'ll mention that the unfortunate bit of $2 per day doesn't actually include only groceries, but other necessities as well. I don't know what the amount is in the states, but wherever it is, it doesn't leave a lot of room for anything but the most basic food. No spices. No chips since you can buy beans (or lentils!) and rice that last for multiple days cheaper than you can buy the bag of chips.

The $2 a day food challenge is just food, nothing else. It's a challenge, not a hypothetical for someone who is homeless. Food stamps give quite a bit more than $2 a day.

Pizza at Trader Joe’s are between 80 and 380 calories. And nutritional values are terrible. You might be able to survive on that for a few weeks, but you won’t thrive, you will get weak and sick easily.

I didn't mean to imply only eating that every day and nothing else.

Also, most pizzas they sell are around 1050 calories. eg, https://www.fatsecret.com/calories-nutrition/trader-joes/piz...

What would be the equivalent of $2 in the US?

Compared to where ? $2 isn't even worth the same, depending of the place you are in the US.

Most people in the US are within a bicycle ride from a Walmart or similar discounter. (New York City is a notable exception). So $5 is has similar buying power throughout the US.

I know because I spent 5 months cycling through the US on a tiny budget.

For calories you would buy ramen noodles. Aim for 2000 calories per day or more. For Vitamins and fibre, buy apples ($1.11 per pound). At least one apple per day. An iceberg lettuce every 10 days or so is a good idea.

What does that average to ? Maybe $5 a day ??

It really comes down to population density. I grew up about 1.5 hours from DC and it was a 25 mile trip to any big box store. In part this is because of how roads are laid out, if you need to get to a bridge that can be a significant detour.

You can't ride a bike everywhere on 2000 calories per day.

So true.

Won't go very far anywhere in the US, but it'll go a bit further around Canton, MS than it will in Houston, TX. But yeah, you're screwed either way.

This is made to appear like an insight of the lives of those living on less than $2/day, but if you look closely, the videos have them talk about micro-loans they get and such, as a covert ad for [1].

Which is OK, I guess, but it's never explicitly mentioned, and the way 5 out of 6 people in the videos talk about those loans is entirely non-organic. Those are not some random people making < $2 day, but people selected because they participated in those loans...

[1] https://www.gatesfoundation.org/what-we-do/global-growth-and...

Of course they are, those shark foundations and companies are really pushing micro-loans as both life changing and charity, when it’s been a long time since we’ve known it has really bad effects and is the new cool way to prey on the poor.

They would helicopter money at people if they really wanted to help them.

The parent more or less correct, if speaking a bit loosely. Microfinance has been a disaster pushed by indeed horrible loan sharks, though the Gates Foundation isn't by itself such a thing.

"Hundreds Of Suicides In India Linked To Microfinance Organizations": https://www.businessinsider.com/hundreds-of-suicides-in-indi...

Counter point from the Guardian on the whole Gates approach (also linked on another thread here): "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong" https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/29/bill-g...

The Guardian article is iffy, discussed here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19026201

I disagree. In your linked comment, ColdTea's comment is insightful.

Edit: I linked to this article because it makes an informed critique of Gates but the ultimate point is that all that is being measured by removing "extreme poverty" is a movement from subsistence (living outside the money economy) to existence within it. This isn't accomplished by charity and trends for those within the money economy have not been towards increasing wages.

A move out of subsistence could be good, bad or indifferent, depending on particular conditions and who interprets the situation. But the big thing is it's particular (and pretty much inevitable) change, not a general "trend to the good" and ultimately the question is where those in the money economy get good and rising wages, something Gates seems to pay zero attention to.

> shark foundations

Characterizing the Gates foundation as sharks? Interesting.

> when it’s been a long time since we’ve known it has really bad effects and is the new cool way to prey on the poor.

What? source for that claim please. It's far from an obvious or widespread idea that making access to small amounts of capital easier leads to more problems for poor people.

>Characterizing the Gates foundation as sharks? Interesting.

Don't know for the parent, but as a European, where we have seen all kinds of things in the political and economic sphere, we tend to be less gullible and more cynical.

Many charitable funds are basically ways to take huge tax breaks and still have control of your money.

Others are based on you giving an insignificant amount of your fortune (which can still be huge percentage wise, but it's insignificant in its consequences to you: if you have 100 billions, even giving away 99 of them leaves you with enough money to sustain a lavish lifestyle for several generations) and trade it for a say in global politics and power. In other words, you use your funds to 'play god' and help manage the world the way you like it...

>What? source for that claim please. It's far from an obvious or widespread idea that making access to small amounts of capital easier leads to more problems for poor people.


>"We asked ourselves why the world had to be like this and what we could do to help. Our search for answers altered the course of our lives and led us to start our foundation."

It's a shame but it seems to me like Bill came up with the wrong answer due to a bad diagnosis of the problem.

If you really want to help these people, your best bet would be to highlight how rampant corruption affects these countries and how their rulers should be held accountable for it.

Foreign aid, by itself, will never be enough to solve this problem as long as there are tyrannical and corrupt regimes.

My understanding is that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation only works on projects that are very transparent in their costs and minimise the risk of corruption siphoning away the money. No system is perfect but when I worked in international aid they were always the stick other orgs measured themselves against.

I think the general opinion of Bill Gates would be very different if he'd used his billions to hire mercenaries and overthrow governments, even un-elected ones. (Then again, Ross Perot did something close to this to rescue a few staff in Tehran and was hailed a hero).

Realistically, the only thing that results in a "how their rulers should be held accountable for it" is a violent change of regime. There universally are large groups of local people who'd like their corrupt rulers to be accountable, so you theoretically could support that process by buying and delivering large quantities of weapons to the opposition of the regime so that they can (try to) overthrow it and bring justice to the ruling clique. Or, alternatively, orchestrate an external invasion either by neighboring countries or USA.

However, is this really what Bill Gates should be trying to implement in other countries?

I am impressed how respectfully you make this point. I would advocate strongly against imperialistic views to solve these problems.

I noticed how most of them are trying to save money ‘to better their lives’ or are taking out loans in their local currency. The inflation rate of these currencies is devastating. Perhaps instead of overthrowing a corrupt upper percentage of their country they could find ways to evade their purchasing power and capital accumulation being drained away...

So after reading this your first instinct was to comment how you know better than the world’s greatest philanthropist?

Is he greater than, say, the guy who founded DFS Group, who has now given away all his wealth in line with his plan to do so which he set in place decades ago?

Edit named wrong company initially

Ummm, yeah? Bill Gates has also famously committed to giving away substantial parts of his wealth to charity, and has even gotten other billionaires to do the same.

Although, let's not actually compare greatness here, anyone voluntarily giving away their vast fortunes to charity deserves applause in my mind, and saying that one is greater than the other is kind of pointless.

Well I was responding to someone who implied that Bill Gates was the greatest. Chuck Feeney lives in a rented apartment drives a modest car and has essentially given away his entire $8 billion dollar wealth. It's hard to top that for generosity in my opinion.

But he gave it mostly to his own charity, as far as I know, so he still has some control over it. So it is not the same, I think.

Like, you are right, but I would phrase it differently - he not only donated most of his money to charity, but he also committed a big part of his time to making the world a better place via his charities. His time/attention on what should be done, coupled with his work in getting other billionaires on board, is quite a bit more valuable than just the money alone.

DFS as in the duty-free retailer? Given that they made their money from cheap booze & cigarettes, you'd figure they're starting from a pretty big karma deficit -- Windows may be responsible for a lot of things, but not lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.

It's a chicken and egg problem though.

When people are uneducated and barely feeding themselves tyranny and corruption flourish.

It's important to remember that the world has been unbelievably successful at getting people out of extreme poverty (inflation-adjusted $1.9 per day). We went from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 0.65 billion in 2018. Ways to go, but it is a truly amazing achievement of humanity. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the past 30 years.


And it's not just money. Very tangible measures such as mortality before age 5 have greatly improved.

From https://ourworldindata.org/child-mortality#global-decline-of...

In 1800 the health conditions of our ancestors were such that 43% of the world’s newborns died before their 5th birthday. These estimates are shown in the visualisation below.

In 1960 child mortality was still 18.5%. Almost every 5th child born in that year died in childhood.

Over the last decades we have seen a very rapid decline of child mortality globally. In 2015 child mortality was down to 4.3% – 10-fold lower than 2 centuries ago. You have to take this long perspective to see the progress that we have achieved.

I think this number is marginally misleading, because a huge amount of that is China:

> According to the World Bank, more than 850 million people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty as China's poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015

China was not historically poor, and this is a reversion to the mean once minimal free trade was allowed.

It's still a true story...nothing diminishes the significance of this.

The achievement is ... Mao died?

And probably Deng Xiaoping's re-architecture of China.

Still, what caused the advance does not diminish the success of humanity. Progress is progress.

"Progress is progress. "

It is? Don't you think, there can also be progress in the wrong direction?

Wouldn't "bad leader dies, next one has better economic policies" make the situation improve by a lot in most poor places?

Yes and this is not exclusive to developing countries either.


Nah, you threw the baby out with the bath water there; the other East Asian countries that embraced the west became much much richer much much faster after WWII.

China just managed to dramatically shit itself from the Great Leap Forward through to the early 90s, and is now undergoing the growth spurt that it’s Eastern neighbours experienced decades previously.

They are also much smaller. If you compare China to India it didn’t do that badly after all

I think that if I had to live through the second half of the 20th century in either place I'd take India's moderate socialism followed by a slight loosening over China's extremes. Even if China is in a better position right this moment, it lost a lot of people getting there.

You might want to tell the BJP voter base that

This is not true. The same trend holds across the rest of the world.


Still it means world ex-China went from being 30% poor to 10% poor (1050M out of 3400M in 1980 and 640M out of 6400M now). Great achievement nonetheless. While yes, most spectacular in China. That's what happens when you scrap Communism and manage to not break everything else in the process (and yes, also hack your way there quite a bit, creating quite a few long-term liabilities that will backfire soon).

Even if you look at the last 500 years fewer people live at near subsistence level today than they did in the past.

Which country is historically poor? I don't understand. If we consider a native, self sustaining civilisation as "poor" because they don't have the technology (whether that is a horse cart or a computer) that we have and they can't buy it at the currency rate that we fix, I dont think it qualifies as poor. I think it's time we should get comfortable with the fact that happiness is not always material things but it's relative material things. We may have eased our physical effort with technology but most of us spend in gym or track to probably spend the same amount of energy. Of course we can't go back once we are lifted out of the "poverty " except to spend half our savings as that vacation on the hut at an exotic beach or wildlife safari, cursing our hectic career & life :)

This is the point of Steve Pinkers last two books Enlightenment Now. He has many graphs of social progress in recent centuries. He attributes this to a society run much more on human reason than in the past, including science, laws, and large governments.

We still have a great deal more room for improvement.

The article mentions this in the beginning, what's your point?

I love how every time there's talk of povery, some first world beneficiary jumps in to point out how much better poor people are compared to the past. Why they think that's relevant is beyond me.

Well, it's not nothing...but making the ridiculously poor slightly less poor isn't something I'd call an "amazing achievement" since it's stupid easy to make them not poor.

That's not true at scale. We're not talking share-shifting of dollars, but making a more anti-fragile system overall that lifts everyone.


I’m gonna need you to cite a source for that claim.

> it's stupid easy to make them not poor

Really? How so?


Which rich people do you think all that money came from exactly?

This is an absurd fixed-pie view of reality.

And you'll also need a set of policies to keep that going in perpetuity, otherwise the money is going to accumulate in a few hands again.


The problem is that every country that is still very poor is also full of corruption, so we have already solved all the simple cases you talk about.

Something to keep in mind: while exteme poverty is worse than what a 1st world person could probably imagine,you have to also think about all the nuiances and costly omplications of first world living that go away in a poor 3rd world country.

Mandatory health,rent,home owner, car (liability) insurances don't exist. Housing codes are not that good or not enforced well which means cheap housing (think huts for example) with no running water,plumbing,extensive electrical wiring,toilet and more is a lot cheaper than in a developed nation. People don't use microwaves,dish washers,laundry machines and similar convenient appliances. Bills are mostly limited to electricity and cellphone. Income tax is pretty much non-existent for people in extreme poverty. If you survive all the way to adulthood in extreme poverty you probably havr a well fortified immune system.

Things also cost what people are willing to pay for them. At least the bare neccesities will always be affordable to the majority,which means if there is extensive poverty in a certain area then food,used clothing,etc... Are affordable (albeit not of good quality).

My point is, a "day in the life" is probably a lot different than you might think. It's not so much that they struggle to pay rent,good healthcare or afford food (typical american poverty) but more like if they get sick for simple curable diseases they just die. Because they make so little,they can't afford to let the kids go to school at all after a certain age (the kids help) or even if they can they can't do homework or study with bad housing or lacking electricity and other tech. In many cases,kids walk really far to get to school (think 5+ miles). Nutrition is of course horrible.

The type of poverty you would experience in the US is different. You have food pantrys and emergency medical treatment is always available or at least you can get to a hospital within a few hours. Public libraries and relatively great public schools make raising a child a bit easier. In the US though,housing means a lot of complicated requirements,things cost a lot more,you feel a lot worse with what you lack which means the mental trauma is very high which in turn drives many to turn to easily accessible vices and crime trapping the person in a spiral of misery. Poverty is horrible wherever it happens and very tragically it persists in the west wearing a different mask.

Growing up in extreme povery and experiencing it after living in a 3rd world country are not comparable. When you grow up in a certain environment you accept certain realities(e.g.: I can't afford a 3rd meal and toilet paper vs I have to live in my car with my child because I got evicted ).

I would upvote this +100 if I could!

What you said about growing up in poverty and experiencing it later are super different things. I grew up in Sri Lanka and while I have not lived in one, we have small villages in tea estates where 50-100 families have created small village, all of whom work in the same estate. Even today, they make about $3 a day, and they have totally different economics to compare with the outside world. Food exchange is quite common (someone grows one type of vegetables, and the other, a different type), and costs like transportation and utilities are not that extreme because they already have a store, a small school, and even a public water well for drinking, shower, toilets, etc. I am totally agreeing with your last paragraph saying there are different types of poverty.

I'm kinda put off by the production of these videos. It feels like some artsy vlog or artisan type video, but instead it's highres slowmo shots of someone's sheet metal hut and the sunlight coming through smoke and dirt while they slog through another day with nearly nothing to show for it.

I feel like the videographers missed the point by trying to make it pretty.

They do.

Its a robotic form of expression you see everywhere these days. People are trained how to do one thing well for one context. They take that blindly and apply it to everything they see whether it fits or not. They do it blindly because thats what all the other "educated" folk are doing.

Jaron Larnier has a nice term for it - digital maoism.

You see it in how Journalists and news orgs behave when you visit poorer countries. They are all trying to be CNN in fancy suits and surrounded by flashy graphics covering a cancer ward with no electricity. You see it in the Entrepreneurs and Engineers who want to emulate Apple or Google, more worried about the smoothness of GUI and the typography and icons than thinking about why an uneducated poor person needs it.

While this cognitive dissonant prettification style is all pervasive, whats really interesting is not everyone falls for it. Somehow nature has ensured populations will always have people who go the other way. And thank god for them.

They’re trying to capture the story in a compelling, accessible way. I feel like the production quality helps honor the people and their stories, adding credibility.

Maybe not surprising when you go to the world’s 2nd richest person, a person whose net worth keeps increasing by billions per year, to learn what it’s like to live on nothing.

Bill Gates didn’t produce the videos himself ...

What percentage of his time and net worth has Bill Gates given to those in poverty over the years?

You should also ask what percentage of their net worth he has taken? He is getting richer every day.

I am pretty sure Gates has taken next to none of Zimbabwe's wealth.

Compared to say how much ZANU-PF has taken.

There are so many folks in the comments who seem to be focused on a particular narrative. There's a lot of comments saying "It's so much better than it used to be!"

While true, this feels to me like a deflection. It seems to come up any time inequality is mentioned here. It feels like an excuse.

"yes things may be hard for someone making $2 a day, but they're better now so it's all ok."

I find it to be a distraction. I don't care if things are better than ancient times. I think they can improve significantly more, and I'm frustrated by such short-sighted viewpoints distracting from the point of the article.

I can't speak for everyone in the comments, but when I say the world's improving, it's a reaction to either defeatism ("we can fix the problem so you shouldn't stop trying") or calls for revolution ("don't flip the table over when things are getting better").

It's not that things are improving so we don't need to do anything else, it's that current efforts are working and we should keep going.

>> I don't care if things are better than ancient times.

The world population living in poverty has decreased from >1.7 billion to 700 million over the past 25 years. So, it's not a comparison to ancient times. We've made considerable progress in just the past couple decades.

There's still a lot of work to be done, and we should celebrate the progress made at the same time.

Yet these statistics don't matter to individuals for whom life is mostly suffering. We're together in our happiness, but alone in our grief. The Gates note here recounts such stories, and even they haven't captured the deep anguish and helplessness that consumes individuals when they have no money to eat (and worse, to feed their children), and when they can't treat family from curable ailments.

Often people seem to use ideas in Factfulness (Rosling) to assuage the guilt of living well and free when there is suffering all around. This is fine, but this also seem to give ammunition to others who argue that people's fates are in their hands alone, minimum wages should be abolished, and being a rickshaw driver is fine - because they need jobs, and it is as good a job as any for people "like them". The reasoning from "things are improving" to "society don't owe individuals succor" seem to be illogical, but reoccuring nonetheless.

How much has world population grown in the past 25 years? I think seeing it as percentages would be interesting.

Why does a decrease in world poverty matter in a thread about living on $2 a day?

I really don’t care about your stats, make your own post if you wanna talk about them. My point is that folks like you redirect the topic because you’re uncomfortable with reality.

I don’t think we’re anywhere close to “celebrating”

...because it's a thread about people living on $2 per day. Would you say the trend is irrelevant if it was negative and things were getting worse? How is talking about poverty trends irrelevant deflection?

I totally disagree with the sentiment that being change oriented means avoiding positive news.

Aside from the fact that its obviously relevant, maybe it was mentioned because the thread is about an article that opens with some of those same statistics on the reduction of poverty.

> Why does a decrease in world poverty matter in a thread about living on $2 a day

Because if the population living in poverty has decreased by 1 billion in 25 years, then were clearly doing the right things to reduce poverty. If you think reducing poverty is a bad thing because you’d only accept a solution that eliminates it instantaneously, then I’d question your priorities.

>> Why does a decrease in world poverty matter in a thread about living on $2 a day?

Because the definition of poverty is $1.9/day or less. Did you read the article?

Another way of looking at it is that two of richest countries in the world from 300 years ago spent the most of the past 300 years with most of their citizens in extreme poverty. Now that those countries are catching up again, we're seeing these reductions in extreme poverty.

In other words, these improvements are not the result of a valiant effort to fight poverty, but a regression to the historical meaning happening because the effects of colonization are beginning to fade away.

I agree, such a positive tone encourages complacency. And the reality is that we could do so much better: https://www.jasonhickel.org/blog/2018/8/30/the-moral-egregio...

"We shouldn’t be looking at the cost of ending poverty as a percentage of total world income, but rather as a percentage of the income of all the people who are not poor; say, those who live on more than double the poverty line. In 1990, it would have cost 12.9% of their total income to end poverty. In 2013, it would have cost only 3.9%. According to this measure, our capacity to end poverty has improved by a factor of 3.31."

I disagree with this, somewhat.

I think the problems of poverty and extreme poverty are undeniable when you look at the examples gates gave. OTOH, in terms of political discussion^ it is a mistake to avoid including positive trends in a discussion. Trends are a huge part of understanding. Does the world need a break from the processes ongoing or do we need to double down and continue/accelerate the trend?

The idea that good news is bad because it distracts from the bad news that still needs attention is shortsighted... and common in change oriented politics.

^id argue when arguments like deflection and staying on message come into play, it's a sign that this is a political discussion

I lived with $0 a day during 2 years (I lived in France, in a small student room, for about €140/month)

It's sustainable and compatible with a 'normal' life, I found food from:

- student university restaurants, I asked the permission to collect in the bread 'trash', most bread was in perfect state. I heard this food was used for chicken farms

- end of markets, I was even helping merchants in exchange of their damaged but perfectly good legumes and fruits. I was coming back with a lot of food. It's important to eat the most damaged first of course

- some supermarket bins, where I could find some salad plastic bags, eggs. There was other kind of food, meat, biscuits, dishes, but I wasn't interested by those processed foods

If I had $2 per day, I'd buy a huge rice bag periodically, eggs, and damaged legumes every week at the end of markets

I seem to remember there was a polemic about supermarkets locking their bins from scavengers. Did you have any problem at the time? Was it before or after there was a change of law?

Just a few more questions out of curiosity from a fellow french student:

How much time a day were you expending in exchange for free food? Did you also use extreme frugality for other commodities?

What motivated you to to take up this lifestyle? Do you think it would have been possible to “have family responsibilities” in your situation?

What alternatives seemed available at the time?

it was about 8 years ago, some supermarkets used bleach, but I never encountered it, I just went at one place, every now and then, sneaking in other friendly students and people doing the same

Going at resto-u, it'd take 30mn/1h (I was using a bike), end of markets the Sunday morning, between 11h and 14h, so about 2-3h. Extreme frugality yes, I literally paid for nothing else than accommodation

Motivation: I was quite alone, and I suddenly wanted to stop eating all the junk food I was eating since years (american sandwich, mcdo, pizzas, kebabs, biscuits, chocolate bars, saucy recipes, I started being disgusted by oily or buttery things), and at the same time I saw the opportunity to consume all the wasted food around me, saving money was also a challenge. Obviously it's not compatible with raising a young child :p

A better alternative would have been to spend a bit of money for food, because I probably had some deficiencies. Nowadays I'm still frugal, spend around 400-450€/month for food for myself, on the same kind of diet with some good extra like honey, and still choose damaged fruits and legumes at the supermarket, as a reflex, and to try to lower their wastage

In my UK city the supermarkets started locking their bins; describing it as a polemic seems a bit like burying your head in the sand.

The problem appeared to be injuries (of scavengers, and the potential for the supermarket to be liable) and extra work of cleaning bin areas.

High-street bakeries used to sell off all the food cheap at the end of the day. At some point in the last 15 years - Greggs took over all my local bakeries (or out-competed them). Greggs policy is now not to sell off stuff because then poor people will buy it instead of paying full price - they throw it away instead (according to staff at my Greggs).

I think now in France supermarkets are 'legally encouraged' not to lock their bins and the culture of food waste is not as prevalent.

I have a friend who lives on less than 20 pounds a week in London (while paying 1500 pounds a month on rent).

How does he do it?

  *  By using perishable sales at Tesco and other places.

  *  By bartering for food
I saw him pick up a bag of ripe but fine peaches for 10 pence and a 3-4pounds of chicken wings for 99 pence. Loaves of bread were 10-20 pence.

This is not easy to do by any means because the competition is fierce. The scenes are reminiscent of Black Friday insanity in US.

Shows the economic realities of living in London.

Personally, I would rather try to pay less on rent and more for food but that is not always an option.

We're out of the woods now it seems [no longer destitute] but the 8pm scrum at Tesco was always a bit fraught.

It seems like the supermarkets don't have as many deals as much now, I suspect they donate more to food banks (they can probably write it off at a higher value than they could sell it?).

Tesco in particular no longer have a "cheap" section, it remains on the shelves. I'd guess that's so that people will mistakenly buy expiring goods (netting them a higher sale price, and earlier repeat sale).

All elements of the squeeze on the poor and the widening poverty gap.

This surprised me -

> He supports his wife and three children with his income of about 1500 Rwandan francs per day (about USD $1.73)

My understanding is that raising a child in most developed western countries is just mind-bogglingly expensive. The purchasing power here has to be wildly skewed from the actual FRw/USD forex rate.

What does 1500 FRw look like in USD (or EUR or AUD or, ...), not going by the official forex rate, but normalized for the cost of raising three children? Like the Big Mac Index but a childcare index.

This is completely misleading, close to lying.

I lived with less than $2 a day. The average salary in the country was less than $100 and this was in Eastern Europe, not in Africa. What changes the story completely is that the exchange rate makes all the difference in my case: we all had a fairly regular life, but the exchange rate was showing a very dark picture. Yes, we were not able to buy American cars in dollars, but a local built Renault copy was a few thousands dollars new. All the prices were extremely low in dollars, but meaningful in local currency. We had not just the basics (food, electricity, house), but an almost normal life.

25 years later, the average salary is more than 10 times more, in US dollars only. An iPhone is now 10 times cheaper, but the price structure is more or less the same and nothing changed, just the exchange rate. The food is 10 times more expensive in dollars, rent is 10 times more, the few things that are more expensive today in local currency are the ones that are heavily taxed, like gas and tobacco.

You made simple and understandable mistake.

Gates talks explicitly about World Bank’s international poverty line measured in PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) dollars. It accounts for differences in the cost of living across countries (the PPP exchange rates).

example: PPP for India is 18.128. In India the international poverty line ($1.9 PPP) is $0.10 per day in USD.


Gates writes:

> Still, the number of people living on less than $2 a day—$1.90 is the World Bank’s international poverty line—is over 700 million.

and links to article that defines the powerty line: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2015/10/04/w...

"income of about 1500 Rwandan francs per day (about USD $1.73)" That is a direct conversion there is no purchasing power conversion. Not my mistake.

Well those numbers are errors, because it's not the international powerty line.

The poverty rate of $2 a day isn't about living off $2 converted to the local currency, if is about living off the local currency with a value of what $2 is worth in USA. You can compare it to live off what half a cup of coffee costs at Starbucks.

Not true. The article is not about living with the equivalent of $2 in USA, but a few African countries and values converted in dollars. A few years ago some colleagues of mine spent a month in rural, mainland China, trying to see how people live with a few dollars a day. While those people were poor, the numbers are very misleading when you convert in dollars.

No, you’re wrong. It’s not about converting what they earn to dollars using direct exchange rate, it’s about converting it to dollar’s purchasing power.

It's hard to convert PP directly because it's different for different goods - the measurements usually use a basket of multiple goods and services. It's possible that e.g. eggs in India are relatively expensive, while lentils are cheaper, but if we calculated PP using the two items then it would be somewhere in the middle: a PP-adjusted $2 portion of lentils would still be bigger in India than we would expect from looking at overall PP.

This may or may not be what the GP was trying to say.

"income of about 1500 Rwandan francs per day (about USD $1.73)"

That is a direct conversion. Where is the purchasing power conversion?

Since i live here, I can tell you people living on this salary in Africa are not living a 'regular' life. They live in shacks and they eat a malnourished diet, they sometimes tap electricity illegally (and dangerously), they do not have money for clothing or any sort of improvement. On top of that they have to deal with things like heightened crime in their areas or the fact that a bit of bad weather can destroy their houses.

Completely agree with you, I did not say anything different. I just said the currency conversion can make a huge difference. With $2 a day you starve to death in USA, a burger costs more than that.


They also lack even the most basic healthcare and will die of easily preventable diseases if they get unlucky.

> This is completely misleading, close to lying.

Philanthropy in a nutshell.

On a more serious note, I couldn't agree more. Any sort of international metric for poverty (like the $2 here) is downright useless because it ignores all the local context.

> I hope you will be touched by their stories, their challenges, and their dreams for better lives. I also hope that you’ll ask yourself what you can do to help the millions of people like them.

You could ask people in the US living below the poverty line and reach this same conclusion. Hell, you could give away 50 bucks directly to a person living in a country with a crappy economy and literally change their life, instead of filming them with thousands of dollars worth cameras to "inspire" people in the west. That's why I prefer GiveDirectly.org over any other charity that attempts to fight poverty.

That’s akin to giving a fish to someone.

I think that what philanthropist can do to help is to effectively replace the government: build infrastructure, educate people, provide healthcare, employ the locals for these jobs.

Any money you give to anyone for free will just get someone rich while the rest will continue suffering.

Also, to directly answer your point, you can give those $50 to a person OR spend those $50 to get 50 people to donate instead. This is the point of this “expensive” documentaries.

> employ the locals for these jobs.

That's where 95% of the problem lies. As someone whose origins are from a poor country, I can name you a lot of organizations that don't have this in mind. A huge chunk of your donation goes to some westerner going on a "spiritual journey" to teach locals, or whatever bullshit they tell to themselves that's needed. It very rarely "trickles down" to the poor people's pockets.

What they need is money. Like literally any single poor person in the world, that money will go first and foremost to securing basic life necessities (food, shelter, water, medical bills), and the rest is gonna get reinvested in their local town or village (either by starting a business or by paying for education).

> Any money you give to anyone for free will just get someone rich while the rest will continue suffering.

What's missing from your equation is taxes. Whatever they do with the money will get taxed, filling the local budgets. Thinking that westerners know more what's needed then people that actually live there is preposterous at best, superiority complex at worst.

> Also, to directly answer your point, you can give those $50 to a person OR spend those $50 to get 50 people to donate instead.

If you think this post without a direct call-to-action is gonna inspire people to donate more than it took to go there and film these documentaries, I honestly hope you're right. I personally don't buy that one bit.

> Like literally any single poor person in the world, that money will go first and foremost to securing basic life necessities (food, shelter, water, medical bills), and the rest is gonna get reinvested in their local town or village (either by starting a business or by paying for education).

Just because you solve their main issue it doesn’t mean that money will be “reinvested” by an uneducated person. You can still have grants for people with ideas, but handing out bills in villages isn’t going to change their lives.

I've mentioned this book here before, but I can't stress enough how good it is.

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America:


"..households surviving on virtually no cash income..."

This is talking about people living on less than $2/day cash income. Which is still quite different from trying to get all needs with $2 cash each day, something that is more or less impossible in the US today. Those without cash live on hand-outs, soup kitchens and government assistance.

Certainly, US poverty has gotten worse over the last twenty years and is a serious problem, of course. But it seems like the focus on $2/day in particular fails to see poverty in any holistic sense.

Counter point from the Guardian on the whole Gates approach: "Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong"


It a collection of stories that help build empathy.......

Its ironic that to describe book Requires amazon

> More than one billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, driven by improvements in health, agriculture, and education.

I don't understand, is the increasing inequality and income concentration a mirage, a lie, or propaganda?

It would be nice to introduce the concept of relative and absolute wealth. If you increase the size of the cake, the poor will get more crumbs, and you did reduce poverty, but it's not really a fair improvement.

I wish Bill Gates would have to guts to do politics. He seems smart but to me it's never enough.

I think that's their plan, see this article about their push into lobbying


it can get even worse. i wonder how many people here have had to live on however many empty beer cans you can collect and cash in in a day.

I haven't had to go that far, but for about six months I had a food budget of less than $2 per day.

If I had needed to pay for housing, health care, everything on $2 I am not sure how I would do so.

at that point there is no housing there is "where can i sleep hidden away so as not to be found", and health care is whatever first aid skills you have until you maybe find a clinic.

What did your meals consist of?

wild fruits and small game, garden vegetables from purchased and scavenged seeds, high fat items bought with change.

What a trite concept. The entire world isn't denominated in dollars. I'm currently in Colombia where I could eat 3 great meals out at a restaurant for maybe $6(and really a whole lot cheaper than that if my goal was to make due with less)

Poverty isn't defined by how much american currency you'd get at exchange for your cost of living.

I find the size of the families interesting. You can only stretch the $2 so much when you have a wife and 3 children to support even if poverty..as a notion..differs globally.

Poverty is directly correlated to large family size. This is true all over the world.

Many people have stopped living on less than $2 a day in the past decades, according to the article. But does this take inflation into account? Surely the value of $2 has also dropped in these decades?

It does. From the linked World Bank article: "The Bank uses an updated international poverty line of US $1.90 a day, which incorporates new information on differences in the cost of living across countries (the PPP exchange rates). The new line preserves the real purchasing power of the previous line (of $1.25 a day in 2005 prices) in the world’s poorest countries."

Also see the documentary "Living on One Dollar," where a group of US students try living at the international poverty line for some months in Guatemala.

Interesting that Bill points out in particular the poverty and hardships of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Interesting because it once had 3000 medical facilities and over 300 hospitals. Something like 80% literacy rate and 60%+ school aged kids attending school. The largest middle class in all of Africa, slavery was illegal (though that doesn't mean it didn't happen). This was of course when it was a Belgium colony. There were 80,000 Belgians living there. There was a massive infrastructure of trains and roads. Many diseases that kill tens of thousands now had been nearly eradicated through vaccinations.

Quite a far cry of how life is there now... Belgium was going to transition away and give the Congo it's independence, but the Congolese people had no patience for that and began getting violent. This led to a premature departure with a weak and new Congolese government. What followed was civil war and complete destruction of all infrastructure and means of living free of poverty... A sad story for sure. You can't blame the Congolese people for wanting their independence and certainly the Belgian people didn't treat them as equals (segregation wasn't the law, but it was a common social practice). I sure wish things could have worked out better. Though the Congolese people didn't have autonomy, quality of life was far better.

Be careful what you wish for: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belgian_Congo

Believe it or not, you can grow food, hunt squirrels and build a nice lean-to for zero dollars a day. People forget that.

My mother, for the last 30 years or so, has been a log cabin, raise goats, make Thanksgiving dinner over a propane fire kind of minimalist. Even so, she told me about this old guy who lived down the road who claimed to live on something like 8 USD per month. According to him, his secret was that he absolutely eschewed all vices.

Where are you legitimately allowed to live outside?

Actually you're allowed to live outside in most of the public land in the Western US. There are some rules about having to change watersheds every so often, IIRC, but throwing up a tent and staying in one spot for a few weeks is completely legitimate.

Ah, yes, the wonderful quality of life of barely surviving.

It's a matter of priorities, obviously.


The first world's needless cry of "exploitation!" is the third world's actual opportunity.


They certainly do not get mad when you give them jobs.


No it isn't.

Please, could you suggest an alternative to capitalism? How would you implement it? Are you also likening people in extreme poverty to cows? Is that not extremely vile? I would like to have a discussion with you, but I fear I can't really hear you from your moral high ground: could you please come down to my basic level and try to explain? English is also not my first language, so lets keep the phraseology simple.

Some suggestions:

1. If you need healthcare you get it for free or almost free.

2. If you make billions of dollars, you pay a lot more taxes.

3. Workers have as much power as their employers.

4. Everyone has access to food, water, and basic shelter.

5. Everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

This seems like a good start.

The problem is that every system is doomed to fail if it is based on pure ideology, be it capitalism or communism. The reality is that you need something in between. One which rewards effort but ensures a safety net, and provides the means and opportunity. Where one draws the line in balancing the good of capitalism and communism is the spot where wisdom lies. Communism obviously failed. Capitalism of the kind you have in the US also appears unsustainable as does the socialist underpinnings of countries such as India - just too much ideology involved. Of course countries ridden with extreme corruption have no hope whatsoever until the corruption can be reduced.

I present the alternative known as:

Capitalism (with some changes)

Criticizing an economic system doesn't require me to create and name an alternative. I can present issues, we can solve those issues, and then we'll have a new economic system that is quite close to capitalism.

Once it's significantly different we can figure out how to name it. But that's not important right now.

The irony: that site does not work in Microsoft Edge browser...

How can a country that has people living in such abject poverty justifies sending a probe to the Moon?

I think this is a legimite question! Personally I don't have a clear answer. Two arguments for a space program country with lots of poverty (like India or the USA):

* Establishing a high tech industry with programs like this potentially leads to increasing tax revenue for the country, thereby making funds available for fighting poverty.

* It could be used as a point of identification for the population in the country, helping to see oneself as a citizen in a nation, not just a member of a tribe, enlarging the "us" in "us vs. them". This can lead to more empathy towards the poor (as they are now part of "us"), which can pave the way for political changes leading to less poverty. To enable changes in a democratic country, you don't just need the funds, you have to have a political plan that resonates with a big part of the population.

If there are reasonable answers doesn't that prove it _is_ a legitimate question?

In 2011 1.5 million families in the USA lived on less than $2 a day before benefits[1]. Is it time to defund NASA?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_the_United_States

If we're talking about spending space money on benefits, then talking about 'income before benefits' is kind of irrelevant. The whole point is that USA and Europe can afford both social benefits and space, but India apparently has to choose and has chosen to not support these very poor people.

NASA budget is 0.489% of US 2019 Budget, ISRO is ~0.4% of Indian 2019 Budget.

Also ISRO makes a profit through its commercial satellite launching missions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antrix_Corporation

India's space program is a potential money-maker for them. They get paid a lot for commercial launches and satellite communications. The moon landing could be viewed as a marketing expense.

Their space program is actually closer to profitability than a lot of the tech IPOs recently with ~$780 million in revenue on ~$1 billion in expenditures[1].

[1] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/isro-earns-rs-5600...

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