Sunday, August 21, 2005

I was reading about a new initiative to build laptops for $100 and distribute them to Africa so kids there can have computers.

I suppose it's a good cause, and it's obviously a sexy, headline-grabbing solution. But I was in Niger last year and the people in my sister's village need $100 laptops like a fish needs a bicycle. Miles from the nearest road, much less the nearest source of electricity, it's an isolated place.

Niger is, of course, an extreme case, but it isn't going to be pulled out of poverty by cheap computing power. The most important thing is to reduce the size of families. There are just too many people. I read that when he was vice president, Al Gore ordered someone to track the most important factors in reducing a country's growth rate. Turns out that the biggest one was educating girls. It's not as flashy as cheap laptops running Linux, but it would be great if a similar effort was made to ensure that every girl in Niger went to high school.

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