I just finished watching CNN's special on the annual selection of Time Magazine's Person of the Year. This year, three people share the honor. Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Bono have been named in tribute to the work that they have done fighting against poverty and fighting for health care in the third world.
This is a good choice for two equally good but very different reasons. The first is that they have done extrordinarily good work. Over the past couple of years, Bono has managed to take debt relief from a concept that only a truly diehard policy wonk could love and turned it into a popular cause. This year, at least in part due to his efforts, forty billion dollars of third-world debt was forgiven. Bill and Melinda Gates have made it their mission to build health care, and save lives, in poverty-stricken nations. They have put the drive that put Microsoft in its position of dominance into trying to fight malaria and other diseases that kill few or none in the first world and many in the third - because they can't afford preventative medication.
The second reason that this is a good choice is because this has not, for most Americans, been a year that was about third-world poverty. It's been a year that is about problems in Iraq, and problems at home. Aside from a couple of awful natural disasters, the world beyond Southwest Asia hasn't really been in view for most Americans this year. The everyday disaster that is life in far too much of the world certainly hasn't been on the scope. Putting international poverty front and center on the cover of Time is a much-needed reminder that there are problems beyond the ones we have here, and the ones we have created abroad. It is a much-needed reminder that just because these problems have existed beyond human memory does not mean that they are unsolvable. It is also a reminder that nations are not the only force that can fix problems like this. Active, committed indivivuals can do good on a massive scale.