TECH TALK: Good Books: The End of Poverty

Poverty is one of Indias (and the worlds) biggest challenges. What can be done about it? Can we get to a world where we can ensure that everyone has a decent life? This is what Jeffrey Sachs book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time discusses.

The Amazon review provides an introduction: Celebrated economist Jeffrey Sachs has a plan to eliminate extreme poverty around the world by 2025. If you think that is too ambitious or wildly unrealistic, you need to read this book. His focus is on the one billion poorest individuals around the world who are caught in a poverty trap of disease, physical isolation, environmental stress, political instability, and lack of access to capital, technology, medicine, and education. The goal is to help these people reach the first rung on the ladder of economic development so they can rise above mere subsistence level and achieve some control over their economic futures and their lives. To do this, Sachs proposes nine specific steps, which he explains in great detail in The End of Poverty. Though his plan certainly requires the help of rich nations, the financial assistance Sachs calls for is surprisingly modest–more than is now provided, but within the bounds of what has been promised in the past. For the U.S., for instance, it would mean raising foreign aid from just 0.14 percent of GNP to 0.7 percent. Sachs does not view such help as a handout but rather an investment in global economic growth that will add to the security of all nations. In presenting his argument, he offers a comprehensive education on global economics, including why globalization should be embraced rather than fought, why international institutions such as the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank need to play a strong role in this effort, and the reasons why extreme poverty exists in the midst of great wealth. He also shatters some persistent myths about poor people and shows how developing nations can do more to help themselves.

Here is an excerpt from an interview of Sachs in Mother Jones:

MJ: What do you say to critics who argue that it’s a waste to put more money into a development system that hasn’t used that money very effectively thus far?

JS: Well, we have to be smart about whatever we’re doing. But I’m quite convinced that, broadly speaking, economic development works. The main arguments of the Millennium Project Report, and the main argument of my book is that there are certain places on the planet that, because of various circumstancesgeographical isolation, burden of disease, climate, or soilthese countries just can’t quite get started. So it’s a matter of helping them get started, whether to grow more food or to fight malaria or to handle recurring droughts. Then, once they’re on the first rung of the ladder of development, they’ll start climbing just like the rest of the world.

MJ: What about aid being sent to countries that have a serious problem with corruption? Some have argued that large amounts of aid will merely prop up those regimes. Can poverty be eradicated while corrupt politicians are in office?

JS: My experience is that there’s corruption everywhere: in the U.S., in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa. It’s a bit like infectious diseaseyou can control it, but it’s very hard to eradicate it.But, let me note that the world successfully eradicated small pox, and not just in countries that scored high on a governance index but in all parts of the world. This was an international effort which targeted a specific outcome undertaken by professionals using a proven technology and a very extensive monitoring system. And that’s the general model for our aid proposals. Nothing is done on trust. Everything should be done on a basis of measurement and monitoring. When you really focus, there are so many ways to be clever about how to do this to make it work better. Don’t just send money; send bed nets, send in auditors, make targets quantitative. There are a lot of tricks, a lot of ways, that if one is practical about this, one can get results.

Sachs book is one of hope that one of the worlds biggest problems can be solved in our lifetime.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.