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All in the Numbers: Check Prof. Rosling about Progress

Posted by: Joe Weber on June 08

Rosling.jpg Wonder about how China’s rocket-like growth in recent years puts it in comparison to other countries? Check out this videoblog by Hans Rosling, whose ingenious software and keen mastery of statistics charts societal gains in ways that will make you think anew about progress.

He compares the growth of China and the United Kingdom. Where 200 years ago, the U.K. led the world - both in regard to health and economy — this analysis shows how China has been narrowing the gap with it and the rest of the world. And, in the coming five years, it will do so faster than ever, Rosling shows by using projections that even take into account the current global economic crisis.

Rosling, a physician and professor of global health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, will convince you in a series of presentations that progress is man’s lot. He skewers preconceived notions as he demonstrates the power of statistics to chart improvements in health, per capita income and population growth over decades.

One of Rosling’s myth-busting presentations scores the press – though perhaps should criticize the scare-mongers in the health establishment – for the swine-flu scare. For that insight, check out Swine Flu Hype Alert.

In Yes they can! he shows how low and middle income countries are catching up with high income lands

And check out the tables that he uses to chart the growth in income and the decline in child mortality worldwide over the last few decades. Despite all the many setbacks the globe wrestles with, the march of progress is dramatically clear in his statistical analysis. He will tell you things about the Third World that you likely didn’t know.

Rosling, a cofounder of Doctors Without Borders, tracked disease in Africa. He has written widely on global health. And he has sat down with a mix of leaders around the world, including Fidel Castro.

Reader Comments


June 9, 2009 02:27 AM

Admittedly, I have not listened to Rosling's postulates but the article notes that he contrasts and compares today's China to England of 200 years ago. If that is the basis for an argument of China's continued vertical growth, then I would have to wonder about the solidity of his musings.

England did not have to support more than 1 billion people as it grew in global influence and prominence and it did not have, what amounts to, a totalitarian regime running the place.

The continued insistence that China will grow as it has fails to note that China is completely dependent on income from first world countries. Without that income, China is adrift and fighting a very uphill battle.

China is not growing because of their inherent abilities and talents but rather because the rest of the modern world has been throwing money at them. If that money dries up, and it will run far less for the foreseeable future, then China's growth will slow tremendously.

Didn't charts and graphs lead us astray over the last few years? Wall Street gurus who created charts to determine the future of a stock price were repeatedly shown to be wrong. Rosling may end up in the same group of people who grandly predicted the future through "facts and figures" but who also failed to identify the unpredictable, or worse, to see the very obvious.

Joseph Weber

June 9, 2009 06:16 AM

Interesting points, Midwest. Thanks for making them.


June 9, 2009 11:05 AM

To Midwest:

Show me your data as to support your claim that "China is completely dependent on income from first world countries"; or you can do a little research yourself, say Google to find out what percentage of China GDP depends upon exports. Many big-time economists/business reporters expected to see the end of so-called export-based economic growth in China at the beginning of this downtime but have been puzzled to see the unexpected: with around 30% of export decline, China's economy will still grow 8% in 2009. I am not saying the exports are not critical to China's growth. But what you claim is not factual if it's not imaginary. As for your another claim, "...... the rest of the modern world has been throwing money at them. If that money dries up, and it will run far less for the foreseeable future, then China's growth will slow tremendously", well, you have change the capitalist system first to make that happen. Business goes wherever money can be made.

Getting politically emotional does not make the west positively face the unprecedented challenges to be the best,politically and economically.

Joseph Weber

June 9, 2009 11:15 AM

Intriguing debate, Downs. Hope you enjoyed Prof. Rosling's presentation. He largely sidesteps the political questions to focus on the macrodata, leaving some blanks that folks such as you and Midwest can fill in. Thanks.


June 9, 2009 12:40 PM

Of course China's growth in the last decades was due to its own inherent abilities and talents. It is easy to see that: why did the west want to throw money in a developing country like China? Why didn't other developing countries (not even India) grow as fast? Why didn't other countries with less challenging problems manage to grow at all? The answers to all these questions only point to one direction: that China's growth was largely due to her own industrious, hardworking and talented people.

himadri banerji

June 13, 2009 03:58 AM

Both India and China have a huge and enviable market in their own countries, to sustain a greater than 8% annual GDP growth.Besides the existing gap between percapita consumption levels of major commodities and services like electricity, gasoline, steel, paper etc, between the first world countries and India and China provide the motivation for growth. Yes hard work work, talent and the natural inclinations of the oriental cultures towards saving, frugality, and service are the main factors behind the phenomenal growth of these two countries.
The comment that China depends upon first world countries for their growth is therefore typical of uninformed and emotional argumentative persons.

Joseph Weber

June 13, 2009 08:54 AM

Thanks, Himadri, for weighing in. Interesting exchange we've got here on China and India. Very helpful.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



BusinessWeek’s Joe Weber, Patricia O'Connell, Michelle Conlin, Frederik Balfour, Peter Coy, Greg Spielberg and Roger Crockett examine The Case for Optimism by looking past the financial turmoil and economic unrest gripping the globe to focus on the promising future that lies on the other side of this storm. We’ll chronicle the forward thinkers investing in R&D, launching promising new products, entering new markets, or implementing management and leadership.

See why BusinessWeek Editor-In-Chief Stephen J. Adler is optimistic about the economy amid the sharpest downturn since the Great Depression.

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