Sachs on Poverty

I just got around to reading Jeffrey Sachs’ 2007 BBC Reith Lectures entitled " Bursting at the Seams". Many may have read (if not, do so!) Sachs’ stirring and important 2005 book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. Sachs, an economist has been the principal adviser to the United Nations’ Secretary General on the Millennium Development Goals. Two advantages of the Reith Lectures is their pithy re-statement of his main theses and a question-and-answer section of the transcript which poses objections to Sachs main argument for ending poverty and registers his responses. Sachs argues that ending extreme poverty (for the 1.1 billion who live on less than one dollar a day) is the most urgent moral challenge of our generation. It is doable (if the developed world made good on its pledge to give 0.007 percent of their GNP to targeted development aid), it is the right thing to do ethically and in justice and it will make our world safer. It might be worth reminding readers of these millennial development goals (adopted at the United Nations Millennium Assembly in September, 2007 and endorsed at the G-7 summit at Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005): (1) To halve by 2015 those who live on less than a dollar a day and of those who suffer from extreme hunger; ( 2) To achieve universal primary education ( with gender equality in education, at all levels, for boys and girls alike); (3) To reduce by two-thirds the under five mortality rate; (4) To reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality rate; (5) To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other tropical diseases; (6) To ensure environmental sustainability ( including halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation); (7) To develop a global partnership for development. This last goal looks toward a comprehensive treatment of debt relief and access for least developed countries’ exports. It also calls for addressing the special needs of landlocked countries and small island developing states. Whenever I teach a standard course of mine on globalization and ethics, I always, early on, cite Sachs’ remarks in The End of Poverty: " When the preconditions of basic infrastructure (roads, power, and ports) and human capital (health and education) are in place, markets are powerful engines of development. Without those preconditions, markets can cruelly bypass large parts of the world, leaving them impoverished and suffering without respite" Sachs has helped me overcome my aversions to some variants of economics as the dismal science but I am painfully aware that the developed nations (especially, in many ways, the United States) seem blind or callous about the shadow sides of world poverty and renege on their promises to address the structural issues which would allow the poorest nations to get a leg up on the first rung of development. Our political hypocrisy, denial and lethargy (despite nice sounding rhetoric) are the real dismal reality. The churches need to take up this baton, as once they so effectively championed debt relief for the most heavily indebted poor nations. Recall the pregnant words of Colin Powell: "We can never win the war on terrorism unless we also win the war on poverty" John Coleman, S.J.
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9 years 10 months ago
John, A small quibble - I believe that the percentage figure for targeted development aid is .7% of GDP not the .007% percentage noted there in the post. You can see this benchmark figure mentioned in a report by a Canadian parliamentary committee here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/prb0710-e.htm where it states, among other things: "In international comparisons, levels of ODA spending are normally assessed using the UN target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) or, more recently, gross national income (GNI), as a benchmark." Needless to say, Canada's record on reaching this benchmark is abysmal, as it is regarding limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Increasingly, Canada's reputation for virtue trades on comparisons with America's that do not provide a true picture of our national lack of willingness to contribute to social justice and environmental preservation.

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