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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Fighting Poverty

The End of Poverty: How We Can Make It Happen In Our Lifetime by Jeffrey Sachs

Publisher: Penguin Books
First Published 2005
375 pages

Review by Deepika Shetty

"Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time," proclaims Jeffrey D Sachs. While many might stare at the statement in disbelief, Sachs is convinced this is possible. Backing it is his 25 years of experience in the developing and the developed world. He has viewed it from many vantage points and that enables him to propose a practical and solid argument for changing the current state of the poorest of the world's poor.

It's not going to be an easy task though. And that's something the author understands. That's precisely why he not only sheds light on working towards a poverty-free world but also provides insights into the causes of poverty, the policies of the developed world and what can change in the developing world. By all accounts, what comes through is a compelling read.

But it is his forceful reading of the causes of extreme global poverty that are outstanding. The argument of the 'poverty trap' is simple enough. It is common knowledge that the vicious cycle starts due to the disastrous combination of poor geography, poor infrastructure and poor health care. This makes some societies incapable of generating any economic surplus for the near-term leave alone the future. With subsistence being the key issue at hand, these places can ill-afford any investment that can provide the much needed boost to their economies.

So how does one break this trap? Sachs argues the first step should be to increase foreign aid in a way that would provide a greater return to private investment. Once these investments are made, they would in turn trigger market-led economic growth.

For those who doubt if this is possible, Sachs has his arguments - the eradication of smallpox and the Green Revolution being the key ones.

Then there are the cases of the emerging Asian Tigers. When you read about India, you see the 'triumph of hope over fear'. India, as Sachs argues is "teaching the world a lot about the richness of the international division of labour, and how it changes in response to technological possibilities. Who would have guessed twenty-five years ago that impoverished India would burst upon the world economy in the 1990s through hi-tech information services? Nobody."

And it isn't just India that is giving the world reason for optimism. There is China as well. The country's dramatic reforms are reshaping not just the global economy but global politics as well.

Giving a profound analysis of the dramatic emergence of these two nations, Sachs convinces us, tackling poverty doesn't have to the monumental task it has been made out to be. To this end, he points out that his proposed annual budget is still less than the pledge made by the developed world at the 2002 Monterey Summit. At that time they had agreed to devote 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product to development aid.

But is that likely to compel the world to put their money where their mouth is? That remains a point in question. But even if half of the US $150 billion were to flow where Sachs proposes it should, it would definitely prove to be a step in the right direction. Now, if only we could get those 'weapons of mass salvation' to flow where they are really needed.


Jeffrey D Sachs is one of the world's foremost authorities on development. He has served as an adviser to many governments in the developing workd. He made his name helping Eastern-bloc and Latin American nations build market economies in the 1980s and 1990s. And since 2002, he has run Columbia University's multidisciplinary Earth Institute and advised the United Nations on development goals. He also serves as a Special Advisor to UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.


"If there is any one work to put extreme poverty back onto the global agenda, this is it." - Publisher's Weekly

"Book and man are brilliant, passionate, optimistic and impatient. " - The Economist

"Professor Sachs has provided a compelling blueprint for eliminating extreme poverty from the world by 2025." - George Soros, Financier and Philanthropist

"Jeffrey Sachs is that rare phenomenon: an academic economist famous for his theories about why some countries are poor and others rich, and also famous for his successful practical work in helping poor countries become richer. In this long awaited, fascinating, clearly and movingly written book, he distills his experience to propose answers to the hard choices now facing the world." - Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse