One of Steve Jobs’ most well known quotes from an interview in 1997
Our species has made immense progress over the past century. While significant challenges remain as we prepare for a world of 9 billion people, I see these challenges as immense opportunities to make the world better through science, technology, entrepreneurship, and policy.
When I let myself dream big, here’s what I see: a world in which every human being has access to their basic human needs; everyone has equal status and rights under internationally accepted law; and finally, everyone has the right to an environmentally sustainable world to live in. Let’s take a closer look at what it would take to achieve this.
Achieving Basic Human Needs For All
This pyramid represents what I’d consider to be the basic, most important needs that any human being must fulfill in order to survive, create, innovate, and unlock their full potential.
The Seven Basic Human Needs: Water, Food, Medicine, Security, Shelter, Education, Electricity, and the Internet
Imagine a world in which over nine billion people have their basic human needs met. Imagine the job creation, the innovation, the creativity that we would unleash.
“How do we make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?” –Buckminster Fuller
Let’s take a quick look at how many people and what percentage of humanity does not currently have access to those seven basic human needs we’ve defined.
Basic Human Need
Security (Living in a Country Without a Major Conflict)
Water, Food, & Shelter
Today, according to UNICEF, 780 million humans are without access to clean water. We just turn on the tap and are not at all surprised when clean, drinkable water comes right out. In fact, we go to the bathroom in gallons of clean water every single day. Yet 11% of the world’s population don’t have access to clean water within 20 kilometers, sometimes even more.
How many people don’t have access to sufficient food to be able to power their bodies and provide the energy they need to live, to survive, to have a strong immune system? 925 million people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (13.2%).
The third need is basic shelter. One billion people (that’s 1,000 million people or 14% of the world’s population) don’t have access to sufficient shelter to shield themselves from the weather and to protect their families. And in fact, there are about a billion people worldwide currently living in slums in urban areas that are densely populated and often don’t have basic things like sanitation, running water, and electricity.
Education, Medicine, and Healthcare
Let’s look at literacy, one of the factors that correlates with basic education. If you can’t read or write, there are a lot of doors in this world that are simply aren’t open to you. There are still 920 million people globally, according to UNESCO, who do not have the ability to read or write (13% of the world).
Next, let’s take basic medicine. According to the World Health Organization, 1.7 billion human beings don’t have access to lifesaving preventive measures and basic immunizations. We’ve made a lot of progress with reducing infant mortality, but if nearly one in four humans don’t have access to the most basic of medicines, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
Electricity and the Internet
Electricity was discovered in the 19th century. But more than a century later, we still have 1.3 billion people (18.5% of the world), according to the International Energy Agency, who do not have access to basic power.
Imagine if you went home at night after school or work and as soon as the sun set, you couldn’t read, you couldn’t listen to music; you couldn’t watch TV. That’s the current case for 1.3 billion people.
I have an investment in a company in Kampala, Uganda, called Village Energy that’s working to provide solar power energy to rural villages–enough to not only provide light to read and work by, but the ability to charge a cell phone and power a radio. It’s innovative companies like this one that we require to get electricity to the remaining 1.3 billion people.
Finally, let’s look at Internet access (or out West, we like to simply call it “the cloud”). Today there are about 2.1 billion people with access to the cloud. What that means is there are about 4.9 billion people (nearly 70% of humanity) who do not have access to the Internet.
Just think, for a moment, about what the Internet has already changed in your life–the access to opportunity, access to people, and access to information and education it has provided. I’ve heard so many amazing stories of what happens when an individual who previously didn’t have access to something as simple as Wikipedia suddenly gets online. The innovative spirit within suddenly gets connected to tens of thousands of years of human innovation, experience, and engineering knowledge. At that point, they can truly create anything they can set their mind to. They have the blueprints to build anything, do anything, and to be anyone.
I would argue that in the future, access to the Internet on a smart device should be a basic human right. Fortunately, the marginal cost of providing additional Internet access is very low. I think we’ll see it happen over the next 30 years. I can’t wait.
But is 30 years really quick enough? Is there something we could do that would provide Internet access to everyone in the next 10 years? These are important questions to ask as you think about the world that together we dream of and create.
We owe an immense debt to the people who have come before us who have fought wars, worked hard, innovated, allocated capital, and created the technologies and societal structures necessary to enable those of us alive today to actually have the opportunity to create a world in which everyone has access to basic needs. I believe that when we create that world, amazing things will become possible.
A $400 Billion Proposal to Achieve Sustainable Prosperity
Here’s a bold idea I came up with: What if we took just 1/5th of the $2 trillion per year spent on global military expenses and invested it instead, proportionally, into a global investment fund equal to $400 billion per year, administered by top investment professionals from each nation and overseen by a professional audit committee. Getting 200 nations to agree to contribute 20% of their military budget annually to this global security fund would be challenging, but I think we could do it in our lifetime.
This Global Security Fund would give contracts to and invest in businesses ensuring high-quality and low-cost global access to education, food, water, shelter, and sustainable energy sources, with the goal of creating a world within 10 years in which all people had access to basic human needs. This one act of compassion would actually greatly reduce the need for conflict (and thus likely pay for itself in reduced need for arms and weapons), create jobs all around the world, and over the course of a generation, greatly increase the number of people who can participate in the global market.
We now have enough wealth, enough opportunity, and enough systems in our world to be able to create a structure such that everyone has access to food, water, shelter, basic education, basic medicine, electricity, the Internet, and basic sanitation. I am not calling for philanthropy and aid. I am calling for $400 billion per year to be invested in businesses that provide high-quality and low-cost access to basic human needs for people around the world. This is just one example of what might be possible in the years ahead as we’re better able to connect and collaborate with other leaders.
We can have a world in which free spirit and enterprise is encouraged. We can have a world in which property rights are respected; a world in which governments are run efficiently and transparently; a world in which businesses are run ethically; and a world in which every child is given the ability to learn, to innovate, to create, to contribute, and to be a leader and pass on what they’ve learned to others. That’s the world I see when I let myself dream big.
Supporting The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
What if there were a simple document (like the Declaration of Independence) that established the rights of humans, which the United States and 48 other countries would adopt?
The reality is that document actually does exist. It was created in 1948 by the United Nations. It’s called the Universal Declaration of Rights and it was adopted by the USA and 48 other countries.
There are simple articles in this document, starting with the declaration that all human beings are born free and equal and that everyone is entitled to the same rights without discrimination of any kind, and everyone regardless of where they are from or who they are has the right to life, liberty, and security.
I encourage you to take a look at this full Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s something that we’re often not taught about in school in the United States, but it’s one of the most important documents underlining the way the world can be in the future. And it’s a document used at the United Nations right now to think about how we focus our resources as a global society to create a better, more secure, safer world for you, your family, and your kids.
A Few Recommendations for a Better World
Keep CO2 PPM Under 450 PPM – A global policy that keeps the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere under 450 PPM and targets getting back to 350 by 2040. To accomplish this we need to tax carbon dioxide emissions at the cost that it takes to remove that amount of CO2 from the atmosphere and stop subsidizing fossil fuel production. We need to incorporate true cost of cleaning up CO2 emissions into any business that generates CO2 emissions (no longer can we afford to privatize the profits from environmental destruction while socializing the cost)
Increase Basic Research – Substantially increasing R&D investment in moving to a clean energy economy and away from fossil fuels and increasing R&D investment in basic research and the hard sciences (NSF & NIH).
Open Immigration - Moving toward an open immigration system in which any human being has the right to visit and live in any place on the planet. Expanding our visa program for highly talented and educated foreigners.
Reduce Defense Spending – Reducing U.S. defense spending from $700B per year to $350B per year and using the difference to pay down the deficit and increase teacher salaries.
Increase Teacher Pay - Attracting more experienced teachers by increasing teacher salaries from an average of $50,000 to an average of $80,000. Reduce the influence of teacher unions and enable public schools to let go of teachers who are not performing.
End Agricultural Subsidies - Ending all agricultural subsidies as they simply increase consumer prices and create market distortions in emerging markets due to dumping.
Simplify The Tax Code - In the U.S. today we have a regressive tax system in which people who work for their income pay income taxes around 35-40% while those who make money from investments pay capital gains taxes of 15-20%. Instead of this regressive system in which the wealthy pay lower taxes, I would propose a flat tax in which everyone pays 22% of the money they earn.
Bring Innovation Into Government - Build on the work of Todd Park, the U.S. CTO by bringing the tools of innovative companies into government, including real time dashboards on the websites and in the lobbies of every Federal Agency, building creative workspaces, allowing for transparent communication, enabling agencies like the DMV to be accessed via mobile apps, having high standards for team performance, and being able to let go of poor performers.