Could a single billionaire lift an entire country out of poverty?


Global poverty has declined to a point where a single billionaire could put an end to it, in some countries. That’s according to a new blog post by Laurence Chandy, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who crunched the numbers just in time for Davos.

While Chandy stresses that there are many caveats, the results are provocative. Chandy’s analysis is based on a scenario where a large enough amount of money is redistributed to lift citizens above the poverty line for at least 15 years. That’s enough time, in theory, for them to develop means of sustaining themselves once the support ended. In three countries—Colombia, Georgia, and Swaziland—a single resident billionaire could meet that target. Six other countries could also achieve that goal if their billionaires all pooled their money.

Country Annual cost Richest person’s worth Poverty rate before Poverty rate after
Swaziland $85m $3,900m 41% 0%
Georgia 40 5,200 10% 0%
Colombia 444 13,400 7% 0%
Brazil 1,223 25,000 4% 1%
Peru 95 2,100 3% 1%
China 3,072 24,200 3% 2%
Philippines 648 14,200 12% 3%
Indonesia 845 9,000 9% 6%
Nepal 144 1,300 12% 8%
Venezuela 870 3,600 11% 9%
India 5,839 21,000 12% 10%
Guatemala 215 1,000 12% 10%
South Africa 1,068 7,400 18% 14%
Angola 1,277 3,300 28% 25%
Uganda 1,035 1,100 33% 32%
Tanzania 1,645 1,250 40% 39%
Nigeria 12,070 14,700 45% 43%

This might all seem far-fetched, but some of the world’s richest people are already giving their money away.

Bill Gates’ club of Giving Pledge philanthropists have promised to donate their riches, and now number over 100. Separately, Mark Zuckerberg has promised to give away 99% of his wealth. Whether similar grand philanthropic gestures will take hold in poorer countries remains to be seen.

Assuming they do, there remains the question of how these funds could be effectively distributed to reach such lofty goals. That sounds like a perfect problem for the wealthy, globe-trotting attendees at Davos to solve, and Chandy directs his post at them. The first thing they will need to agree on is that their money could be a big part of the solution.

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