They don’t really intentionally kill babies just to make more money, do they? They wouldn’t, would they?
Well, I don’t really know.
Infant or baby formula was developed in the developed world when women began to join the work force and did not have the time to breast-feed their babies. What a wonderful great invention it was. Convenience for the mother, and great nutrition for the baby.
Developed as an alternative to breast-feeding, the industry promoted it aggressively in the developed world. On the way back from the hospital after the birth of a baby, the industry gave as a “gift” all that you need to feed the baby formula—the bottles and the bottle bag–and gave just enough “free” formula so that the mother stops lactating because of lack of nursing. Once the mother goes down that formula road, there is no turning back.
Babies are important when it comes to profits for the peddlers of formula. But there are only so many babies in the developed world. For real profit, they have to tap into the babies of the under-developed world. All with the best of intentions, of course: to help the babies of the poor parts of the world because there is a “formula divide.” Why should only the rich “gain” from the wonderful benefits of baby formula?
So they aggressively began marketing it to the third world. The World Health organization estimates that around 1.5 million infants die because they are not breast fed and instead fed formula. How? Breastfeeding not only provides nutrition, but also provides immunity to the babies. Of course, for a baby whose mother cannot produce milk, formula is better than starvation. But often the mothers stop producing milk only after getting started on formula. The initial amount is given free to the mothers in the poor parts of the world and they are told that formula is much much better than breast milk. So when the free amount is over and the mother is no longer lactating, the formula has to be bought. Since it is expensive, soon the formula is severely diluted until the infant is receiving practically no nutrition and is slowly starving to death.
But even if formula were given free, there is still a problem. In the poor parts of the world, clean drinking water is a luxury. Dirty water used in preparing the formula lead to deaths through diarrhea. Feeding formula to third world infants exposes them to all sorts of diseases that arise from inadequately sterilized bottles and nipples.
About 30 years ago, there were no personal computers in the world. Anyone reading this will find it hard to imagine life now in a world without computers and the world wide web. One wonders how one could get along in those ancient times when there were no laptops and cell phones? Yet, the world developed well enough. If you think that there is a digital divide now, what do you think the digital divide was like 50 years ago when only a few research corporations and US government agencies had computers? Yet 50 years ago, people got educated, built productive economies, conducted business and got on with their lives.
The computers and the internet are wonderful things to have. They make life absolutely wonderful for those who can afford them. Actually, you have to be able to not just afford them and also be able to afford what it takes to make them useful, such as reliable power, broadband connectivity, good useful applications, a real world to which the applications are relevant, etc. And on top of all that, you have to be sufficiently trained to use them. It is really no use if you have a computer but there is nothing that you can do with it. But if for some reason, marketing hype convinces you that you need a computer to solve all your problems, you could end up spending money you cannot afford on things that are of no value to you.
One Laptop Per Child is a MIT Media Lab project that is getting immense amounts of press. A sub-$100 laptop for every child in the third world and the digital divide will be a thing of the past, we hear. Sure it will. Just as formula will make malnutrition a thing of the past in the third world.
Given the perverse incentives, the peddlers of these laptops will make billions of dollars selling them to third world governments. As the MIT site says, “The laptops will only be distributed to schools directly through large government initiatives.” Large government initiatives, you bet. Why? Because people who have no money will not waste their money on laptops. Only government bureaucrats with large public purses at their disposal will buy these. The Media Lab people are not stupid.
The government officials will be handsomely rewarded for spending limited public resources in buying hundreds of thousands of these to make villages into “fully computerized” villages. A few trips to the US, a chance to speak at huge conferences on “Bridging the Digital Divide” sponsored by Microsoft, HP, Intel, and the Ministry of IT. Hundreds of millions of dollars which could have been more useful in providing primary education would instead end up in the pockets of hardware manufacturers and software giants. Sure a few children will become computer-savvy, but the cost of this will be borne by the millions of children who will suffer from a lack of education.
I know that one should not ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained as stupidity. Not everyone involved in the “laptop for every child” is motivated by greed; some are motivated by a zeal that comes from an inability to figure out what the problem is and how it can be most effectively solved. The operative word is “effectively.” You can always use a cannon where a fly-swatter is sufficient. But for the cost of a cannon, you can get a million fly-swatters which will be more effective than one cannon. Cannons are more impressive then fly-swatters, however, and that may explain their fascination with some people.
A blackboard and chalk is not as sexy as a laptop. In fact, a TV and a media player is pretty much all the hardware that you need to provide basic education to a village full of children. That hardware (and some free software) would cost all of $200 a year, and if you pay about $2000 a year as salaries to a couple of village school teachers, you can educate a 100 kids for about $20 per child per year. Compare that to just buying $100 laptops for each kid.
I am confident that the One Laptop Per Child will have the effect which is the educational equivalent of the nutritional disaster that imported formula has had on the poor parts of the world.
Yes, they do kill babies in search of profits. And yes, they will not care that millions of children will be denied primary education because they are focused on the profits to be made from selling laptops.
[There’s much more here on the OLPC.
See this informative article “Breast milk or formula: making the right choice for your baby” from the Swedish Medical Center.]