How to End Poverty 101

Kara Cooperrider

Jeffrey Sachs is no philanthropist. He barely even falls under the “do-gooder” category. He’s a problem-solver. He has taken the economies of Bolivia, Russia, India, China and Africa and has, well, solved their problems. In his new book, The End of Poverty, Sachs lays out his next challenge…and solution, of course.

One billion people live in “extreme poverty”, and are constantly fighting to just stay alive against the whims of hunger, disease and natural disaster. A little bit better off are the 1.5 billion people considered to be “poor”. Although their daily survival is assured, they experience chronic financial hardship and lack basic amenities like safe drinking water and functioning latrines. These two categories combined make up 40 percent of the world’s population.

Let me repeat: Jeffrey Sachs is no bleeding-heart philanthropist. He gives others reasons for which these problems should be solved.

First, America should do this for its own safety; we cannot fight terrorism without fighting poverty. Colin Powell has strongly echoed this dictum, declaring AIDS to be the “greatest Global Security threat known to Mankind.” Closely connected, as part of the Millennium Development Goals created at the G8 Conference to Make Poverty History, the United States, and several other nations, promised that we would give .7 percent of our GDP to foreign aid. Right now we are giving .18 percent, putting us at the bottom of the donor list. As leaders of the world both politically and financially, we should be setting the stage for others to follow. It is irrelevant what other countries are doing; we set the standard. Fulfilling this promise would help our much-tattered reputation abroad.

What about the taxpayers? Where do they fit in? Throughout our history, American taxpayers have always been willing to give foreign aid. It is simply a matter of having leaders who are willing to ask.

People often side with the other extreme. They argue that not only will this not be helpful, but it will actually be detrimental. They say, essentially, that rich people become richer while poor people become poorer, but the economy is not zero-sum. If this were the case, the GWP (Gross World Product) would have had to remain constant, but in fact, in the last fifty years it has risen fifty fold. It is simply the fact that some countries have gotten a larger share of this economic growth than others. People also wonder, “Won’t saving all these hungry children just mean a massive explosion of hungry adults?” No it won’t, in fact it will have the opposite effect. Poverty is the single greatest cause of high fertility rates and overpopulation.

Jeffrey Sachs’ solutions are not about throwing a lot of money at countries to save lives. These solutions are about throwing a little bit of money at countries to save economies. The end result remains the same.

The End of Poverty gives several examples of cheap “on the ground” solutions that can have huge impacts: One doctor and a nurse can provide five thousand people with essential health services, including condoms. A storage facility would allow a village to sell its grain when the market is most profitable. Agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, small-scale irrigation, and better seeds, can easily triple crop yields. One mobile phone is all that would be needed to connect an entire village to the outside world for market information in case of a health emergency, or to prepare for natural disaster.

The list goes on, racking up a total cost of about $350,000 per year for a village of 5,000 people. The benefits include decisive malaria control, a doubling or tripling of food yields, drastic reductions of chronic hunger and under-nutrition, improved school attendance, reduction of water-borne diseases, rise in incomes growth of cash-incomes, and staunching the massive number of deaths from AIDS.

So now we know what this money can do, but how will it get there, short of mailing a check to everyone in Africa? Under Sachs, this foreign aid would feed into three “channels”: a little going directly to households for humanitarian emergencies, some going to private businesses through microfinance programs and other “on the ground solutions,” the bulk of the money going into the countries’ federal budgets to finance public investments.

The idea for us non-economists is that households can make and save more, which allows the government to levy taxes to provide even more infrastructure, which helps those households continue to prosper. And Viola! We have economic growth.

These concepts are obviously in an abstract form. What about specific, more tangible stepping stones? Don’t worry, Sachs covers those too. First, the world needs to commit to a specific plan of action. Next we need to raise the voice of the poor. The G20 and G3 — coalitions of poor nations including India, South Africa, and Brazil — have been created in recent years towards this end but the world needs to hear more. Third, we need to redeem the role of the IMF and World Bank from their skewed positions as creditors and restore them as champions of economic justice and enlightened globalization. Fourth, we need to strengthen the United Nations and empower programs like the UN Children’s Fund, WHO, and the Food and Agricultural Organization. We must “help them do the job — on the ground, country by country — that they are uniquely qualified to do.” Fifth, a portion of Global Science must commit to addressing these unmet challenges of the poor. Science has been the key to development since the Industrial Revolution, and will be one of the keys now.

But in the end, this all comes back to us as individuals. It is individuals working together that form and shape societies. Jeffrey Sachs concludes best, so I will borrow from his final words: “Let the future say of our generation that we sent forth mighty currents of hope, and that we worked together to heal the world.”

Colgate University will have a video conference with Jeffrey Sachs to discuss this book and his work in general on Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. There will be a couple of preparatory discussion-based events before his talk to prepare that all are invited to attend. Please contact kcooperrider with questions about these events, the information outlined in this article or general questions about Sachs and his work.