Review – The End of Poverty

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Out Time by Jeffery Sachs, is an optimistic, forceful argument for the economic potential of developing countries and the necessity of increased in aid from rich countries to realize it.

Jeffrey Sachs is an accomplished macro-economist, currently at Columbia University, who has experience helping poor countries get on track to development. While, often described as left-leaning, he makes strong cases in favor of free-trade, market forces, and the role of the private sector in achieving economic development. He does often tout his own success regarding recommendations for economic reforms that enhanced development in impoverished. However, given the overall pessimistic attitude that many have towards real, subtantial economic development in these difficult places, I am not so sure it was out of place.

While, I have a certain amount of skepticism towards Official Development Assistance, ODA, that Sachs makes a case for. His argument is compelling, especially in areas like health and education, that do not have a history of being served well by market forces alone. Even in infrastructure development, while rich countries now rely on significant private sector involvement, during their initial development stage, it was entirely a public endeavor.

In the end, I am more willing to accept Sachs’ argument that ODA is an essential part of what poor countries need to achieve sustainable economic development. I am in entire agreement that promises we make as a nation need to be fulfilled, and not given lip service. The other option is to not make those kinds of promises, but the current situation is dishonorable with regard to the gap Sachs illuminates between the United States’ promised aid and the United States’ actual aid to developing countries. I do think we need to hear more about technological innovation and technology transfer, that Sachs seems to assume will happen if the proper economic conditions are established. I am not yet convinved of that. Also, I still believe that the devil will be in the details as far as ODA is concerned, and if not executed properly we could easily establish incentives for those participating on both sides of the divide that work against our real objectives.

And lastly, I should add, I found the foreword by Bono of U2 to be very thoughtful and eloquent on the subject. I was more suprised than I should have been, I suspect.