awesome book

I'm reading an amazing book called The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs, a PH.D economist, now at Columbia, and head of the UN Millenium Development Project. It is blowing my mind. Everyone on the planet, but especially everyone in the United States, should read this book. He very briefly and cogently explains how the world went from fairly uniform poverty across the globe 200 years ago to its current state of vast inequity, a change that coincided with an explosion in global population. He shows how the rich countries got rich and why the poor countries stayed poor, and he shows how some countries have dragged, or are dragging, themselves out of poverty. He disects poverty, showing its different degrees and their distribution throughout the globe. Most importantly, he argues that extreme poverty, the 1 billion people (1/6 of the world) that lives on less than a dollar a day, can be eliminated by the year 2025 if the world's rich countries decide to take the necessary measures, which aren't even that strenuous.
This guy has a great deal of real world experience advising the governments of developing countries, and he has had a great deal of success. He is very much pro-free trade, but he is also very critical of the United States and other rich countries for their failure to prioritize international aid and debt relief. He is neither a starbucks brick-thrower nor an unqualified free-market Milton Friedman economist. In other words, he's awesome. If you have a chance, you owe it to yourself to take a look.


Andrew said...

I'm somewhat familiar with the UN Millennium project’s aims and means but I haven’t read the book you suggested. From what I know, I am concerned that the project’s initiatives do not adequately take into account the impact of the absence of political freedoms within the countries the project is supposed to target. It’s as if those who developed the project decided to skip that uncomfortable step, say their after “quick wins” and move on the free trade and wealth distribution because it’s easy to bitch about the US. I have no doubt we can forgive debt, slash tariffs, incentivize trade, and redistribute $175 billion a year with an tolerable amount of pain, but if we do not precede these actions with political reform, we will simply be equipping warlords and enriching Swiss banks. The UN has neither the political will nor moral authority to perform either of these tasks. If they were really serious about addressing world poverty, they’d start by taking out despots in Sub-Saharan Africa instead of giving their aides seat on the Commission on Human Rights. First correcting the political systems is the only way they’ll ever be able to achieve their goal by 2025. Economics alone will simply not work fast enough.

One thing I am curious about is if the book attempts to argue that the wealth of the developed world has come at the expense of the developing world. It is an implicit argument that seems to be made continuously by global anti-poverty groups that never seems to be backed up with anything.

Joe said...

Well, I haven't finished the book yet, but the good Dr. Sachs addresses both of the issues you raise. First, regarding the role of bad governments in poverty, he acknowledges that, yes, they're problematic, but that they're only one symptom of the problem. He also points out that democracy is not a prerequisite for good development, which is obvious from the example of China. Some elements that tend to acompany democracy and political freedom are helpful in development, namely a stable society run by the rule of law that protects property rights. I think he'll address the political issue more thoroughly later in the book, but in general, I think he'll say that the traditional critique that development aid only serves to line the pockets of warlords and dictators, is vastly exageratted and outdated.
Regarding the issue of western wealth causing the poverty of poor countries, he is nuanced, but basically denies the truth of that claim. He's pretty critical of colonialism generally, particularly the British East India Company, but basically he argues that global income inequality is an accident of history that resulted from a complex web of causes, including geography, technological advances, climate, social systems, geo-politics, and other issues. That's not to say that colonial governments weren't awful and exploitive; they certainly were, but they weren't the chief cause of todays situation.

Andrew said...

My question remains: Even if the UN is able to distribute aid to the 1 billion individuals they are targeting (which they couldn’t in Rwanda, Somalia, and Sudan) beyond a basic subsistence level, where will this extra wealth go? Either people have property rights or they don’t. And if they don’t, whatever wealth that doesn’t go into someone’s belly will inevitably makes its way to a despot’s regime or his cronies. Many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of the 1 billion poorest individuals live, are in their 5th decade of receiving foreign aid at levels 4 times higher than the Marshall Plan as a percentage of GDP and during this period poverty has only increased. I don’t think any plan that isn’t paired with political reform backed by force, even with the Millennium Commission’s special sauce, will produce results any different than what we’re experiencing now.

Article on Foreign Aid

Another good book about the UN:

Joe said...
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Joe said...

Africa is a really hard problem. First of all, it's wrong to paint the entire continent with the "corruption" brush. Many relatively well-governed countries there have still sunk under poverty. Moreover, lots of bad governments the world over have succeeded in rising out of poverty.
Africa's problem are mainly biological and geographical. Sudan, Rawanda,....these are horrible situations, but they're still nothing compared to the scale of devestation caused by malaria and aids. These two diseases kill around 8 million people each year, mostly in Africa. That's a holocaust every year. Africa just happens to be the perfect storm of a climate that breeds mosquitoes, creates short growing seasons, and where many countries are landlocked. Overlay that with high birth rates, lack of infrastructure, periodic drought, and yes, in places, bad governance, and you have the hell that is africa today.
These places need roads, bridges, insecticides, schools, simple medications for aids and malaria...in other words, simple and obvious solutions that only cost money. Will some money be spent unwisely? Sure. Will some be stolen? Sure. But that's no excuse for keeping our wallets shut. Once we get these countries on the "first rung" of the "development ladder," we can let the market take care of them.
I'm all for politcal development to accompany the economic development, but not if that means that rich countries spend all of their resources on military action rather than direct aid. Stability and good governance are a lot more likely if people are not dying in mass quantities.

Andrew said...

Every Year Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org) produces a comparative assessment of political and civil freedoms in all 192 countries. Below is a list of every country in sub-saharan Africa. I paint the continent with the “corruption brush” because unfortunately it’s true.

Angola NF NM 2.0
Benin F MU 3.2
Botswana F MF 6.0
Burkina Faso PF MU NM
Burundi PF NL NM
Cameroon NF MU 2.1
Cape Verde F MF NM
Congo Rep. NF NL 2.3
Congo DR. PF NL 2.0
Djibouti PF MU NM
Eq. Guinea NF MU NM
Eritrea NF NL 2.6
Ethiopia PF MU NM
Gabon PF MU 3.3
The Gambia PF MU 2.8
Ghana F MU 3.6
Guinea NF MU NM
Guinea Bissau PF MU NM
Ivory Coast NF MU 2.0
Kenya PF MU 2.1
Lesotho F MU NM
Liberia PF NR NM
Madagascar PF MU 3.1
Malawi PF MU 2.8
Mauritius F MF 4.1
Mozambique PF MU 2.8
Namibia F MF 4.1
Nigeria PF MU 1.6
Rwanda NF MU NM
Senegal F MU 3.0
Sierra Leone PF MU 2.3
Somalia NF NL NM
South Africa F MF 4.6
Swaziland NF MU NM
Tanzania PF MU 2.8
Uganda PF MF 2.6
Zambia PF MU 2.6
Zimbabwe NF R 2.3

Andrew said...
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