The World Bank Spreads Ebola Hysteria
“World Bank estimates Ebola could cost West Africa 32.6 billion dollars.” So ran a typical headline from the organization’s October 10 meeting, based in turn on a 71-page report issued three days earlier—a report that actually estimated a broad range of $3.8 billion to $32.6 billion.
This is the way the media work; they ignore ranges in their headlines and often within the articles too. Thus that $32 billion figure appears in every article mentioning the World Bank, while the rather lower range of $3.8 billion rarely does.
Yet even the lower range is far too high, as a few simple calculations done on a Number 10 envelope would indicate.
Consider: The WHO currently estimates there are 13,567 Ebola cases, with 4,951 deaths, virtually all of them in the three (yes, just three) Ebola-afflicted countries in West Africa that have a combined population of about 22 million people. In percentage terms, Ebola deaths are, more or less, zero.
In Guinea, for example, where the epidemic began in December, of a population of 12 million, it appears about 1,000 will eventually succumb to Ebola. Further, Ebola patients tend to either die or recover within days to two weeks. Endemic diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and childhood contagious diarrhea kill more people every two days in these areas than Ebola has during the entire epidemic. Being chronic, they have tremendous economic costs.
Unfortunately, normal medical treatment for Ebola patients in Africa is letting them lie on a bed until they die or recover. In better conditions they’re kept hydrated with electrolytes (think “Gatorade”) either orally or through IV suspension. The real costs are trying to protect the health care worker and incidentals like food.
So for all the World Bank’s 71 pages of number crunching and schematics and pretty graphs and all that, we can expect GDP impact in the Ebola-afflicted areas to be negligible as my previous article TK noted. The bottom has fallen out of the epidemic, which plateaued before the WHO hit the panic button in September.
Why would a World Bank convert a mole hill into Mount Everest? Just maybe because the report was prepared under the auspices of its President, Jim Yong Kim.
Previously the president of Princeton University, Kim came to the World Bank in 2012 after his nomination by President Obama. Since then, according to a recent New York Times article, he has become “deeply unpopular at the bank.” He is a crusader of the far left. Indeed, in his October 10 conference speech he somehow managed to combine Ebola with global warming.
Under Kim’s auspices, a World Bank report this year claimed communist Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean with a “high-performing” education system. Given that the far left also constantly praises the nation’s health care system, you’d think it would be a paradise instead of the hell hole it is.
But as the Times put it, Kim “has found his moment with Ebola.” In his talks, he goes beyond anything in his organization’s report. “If we do not stop Ebola now, the infection will continue to spread to other countries and even continents, as we have seen with the first Ebola case in the United States this past week,” he’s claimed. Only with Ebola can two internal transmissions be considered “spread to other continents.”
His Ebola enthusiasm has even tested the patience of WHO Director-General Chan. And while his own agency’s report rejected the CDC upper range of 1.4 million Ebola infections by January as unsubstantiated, Kim has embraced it. “If the worst-case scenario comes true, and the CDC’s estimate that as many as 1.4 million people could become infected, the virus’ impact will be truly global,” he said in an address.
FROM EACH ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY . . .
Redistribution of wealth is also now clearly part of the World Bank agenda. In a report so new it’s copyrighted 2015, the World Bank says “Prosperity also needs to be shared across individuals over time, requiring forms of sustainable development that fully account for environmental degradation and natural resource depletion as well as, crucially, their close interrelation with poverty.”
The New York Times article stated, “Some economists are critical of Dr. Kim’s emphasis on specific efforts to lift the poorest, over projects aimed at spurring economic growth.” New York University economist William Easterly told the paper, “He is really the first World Bank president who thinks of the bank as being primarily about relief rather than development.”
Kim also edited “Dying for Growth,” a 2000 collection of essays that thank Noam Chomsky in the opening pages – and in the Times’s words, asserts that “economic growth does little to help the poor and can even hurt them.” He doesn’t want to grow the economies of poor countries, but rather level down by transferring money from the wealthy to the poor.
Kim is entirely right in that there’s a powerful correlation between poverty and disease. “Wealth equals health.” But no country ever moved from Third to First World through outside contributions.
I’ve lived in Colombia for three years, and my own experiences here have shown that what makes a nation wealthy is not infusions of cash or even natural wealth. Colombia sits on huge deposits of all forms of fossil fuels, has the world’s largest emerald mines with the best quality stones, has gold and silver mines, and wonderful soil for growing some of the best coffee and other crops in the world. The contribution to GDP from cocaine and marijuana exports is hidden, but massive. Yet it remains desperately poor because of its culture, including all-pervasive corruption and a population that fatalistically accepts it. Venezuela has more oil per capita than Saudi Arabia. And Japan has practically nothing in terms of natural wealth except for sushi.
The ultimate impact of Ebola per se on West Africa will be negligible compared to the endemic diseases that ravage the area and the impoverishment of the region through decades of warfare. But the greater damage will probably be from the hysteria over Ebola, although neither the World Bank nor anybody else is likely to crunch those numbers any time soon.
Michael Fumento is an attorney, author, and journalist, former reporter for Investor’s Business Daily, and writes regularly for Forbes.com.