Tom Freston: The Income Gap

Question: What is the world’s biggest challenge in the coming decade?

Tom Freston: I think it’s dealing with what some people would call now . . . There’s a great book on this called “The Bottom Billion”. The billion people in the world . . . a billion people who make less than a dollar a day. And what does this lead to not only in terms of their own destiny and wellbeing, but in terms of the . . . the states and nations that they live in – how stable they will be. And what . . . what kind of impact these numbers have in an interconnected world, and what it means for everything from security, failed states . . . you know disease, war, all . . . all of those bad, nasty things. And you’ve got a billion people still with all this affluence in the world; and what had been two of the world’s poorest countries – Japan and China – really on the ascendency. And before that if you look at the countries . . . the so-called “tiger economies” of Asia – Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam . . . all of whom had a lot of people sort of in that . . . what you would say now less than a dollar a day category – they’ve all sort of moved up in a place where they’re relatively self-sufficient, and they have an optimistic outlook about life. But there’s still this barrel of countries that lack the infrastructure, see falling standards, are rife with AIDS, disease, malaria, no education. And you’ve gotta wonder how do they become a Thailand? How do they pull themselves out of this? And it’s unlikely that that’s gonna happen unless there’s a more concerted effort and a smarter effort from the developed world. And I think that’s probably the biggest reason . . . That’s the biggest problem. And it’s a problem not just for the bottom billion, but really for the whole . . . the whole security of the whole world.

Recorded On: 7/6/07

Freston, on the world's greatest challenge.

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