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The Nightmare of Living in the Past

Swedish doctor Hans Rosling loads a washing machine with laundry on stage at the beginning of his TED talk. When his talk is over, he returns to the washer and pulls out … books.

His presentation, “The Magic Washing Machine,” is about how this one example of consumer technology is far more than a convenience. By mechanizing the arduous process of doing the household laundry, the washing machine gave women back all of the many hours they spent washing, agitating, and wringing out clothes by hand.

With a machine to do the wash, Rosling’s mother had time to read to him and to learn English. That’s what the books he pulled out represented: the age-old opportunity cost of doing laundry the old-fashioned way.

Telling Stories

Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot about how much better life is today than at any time in the past. It’s pretty easy to make that case with a variety of economic data, but data never seem to pack the punch that I wish they could. What’s more effective are presentations like Rosling’s. He provides an incredibly powerful visual image to demonstrate what economic development has done for women both historically and across the globe.

But it’s just one exampl…

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