Monday, February 19, 2007

The End of Poverty?

I recently read Jeffery Sachs’ The End of Poverty. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was excited to pick up at development best-seller- not a common combination! While I usually try to avoid non-fiction when I’m not at school or working, and tend to have a fiction addiction, I think TEOP will find its way onto my 2007 top ten list.

The book does a great job of summarizing most of my four year international development degree, from discussions of absolute versus relative poverty, to the best way to address the issues of environment, health, education and livelihoods in the developing world. And Sachs does it in a way that makes development concepts accessible: he looks at development as a ladder, and those facing extreme poverty have not been able to get their feet on even the first rung. Thus, the requirements of aid can be seen as inputs to help that group reach the bottom of the ladder and begin to work their way up. He also brings down the issues to a single number: $75billion dollars a year until 2025, at which point he believes that all human kind could be on the development ladder and extreme poverty would be eliminated. Hence, the End of Poverty!

Situated, as he is, in the heart of American development politics and economics, Sachs was also able to do a good job of explaining the successes and deficiencies of his country’s aid contributions. Like the discussion in the previous post, this has helped to give me a more detailed view of America’s role in the development world, which I find really interesting. He called on a number of American thinkers and activists to give power to his arguments for the potential of the end of extreme poverty. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr, Sach’s says “The bank of international justice is not bankrupt,” and explains how people like King, Gandhi, and Mandela “transformed the impossible into the inevitable.” While many people think ending poverty is impossible, and that we in the West can't afford it, Sachs is busy making us realize that we can, and we should.

His point is obviously more and better action, which is heralded over and over again by poverty activists like Bono, Angelina Jolie or Bob Geldof. But the good thing about Sachs is that he manages to mainstream his ideas about aid and development, and introduce them in more conservative economic circles than would usually listen to the rockstar rolemodels. In his final "to do list", Sachs calls everyone to “make a personal commitment,” something I believe in very strongly. He ends the book with this quote:

Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills- against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. -- Robert Kennedy

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