Towards the End of Poverty: A Manifesto
The difference between a solid policy prescription book and an evocative manifesto is hard to make out if it is an economist writing it. I should have known which side this would fall on once I saw that the introduction was by Bono, but I let the forceful and articulate Bono force me into buying this one. In the store, Bono’s righteous anger was infectious and the book could not be put down. It sounded like a moral obligation:
Fifteen thousand people dying needlessly every day from AIDS, TB, and malaria. Mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, mechanics, children. This is Africa’s crisis.
That it’s not on the nightly news, that we do not treat this as an emergency—that’s our crisis.
Sachs has often come into some criticism for advocating a too-simple model. But, perhaps the point is that one has to take his prescriptions as those of a reformist, of an evangelist, of one who is willing to put his reputation on the line to get the ball rolling. He is okay to work out the details later. His prime interest is to convince the world that progress in the fight against poverty is possible, and that depends on giving them a believable model, a get-go plan.
The model he presents is the Ladder of Development. This is the easy and feel-good model, the one for the headlines. The more realistic prescription is hidden inside. It is what he calls ‘Clinical Economics’. This review wont be covering that. Another interesting part of the book is Sachs’ analysis of China. It is an insightful take on why socialism failed in Russia but flourished in China. It is worth a read, but again won’t be covered in this review since it will take away from the forcefulness of the main thrust. The reviewer is determined to be a disciple of Sachs in this respect.
In the simple model, Sachs tells us that there exists a Ladder of Development. It is made of many successive rungs that have to be climbed to reach where the developed world currently is. The Ladder is not a normal ladder, the rungs are not equally spaced – they get closer together as you climb higher. So that it gets easier and easier to climb the higher you are. This is illustrated by countries who were poor only a few decades ago but had so called ‘economic miracles’. To Sachs, there was nothing miraculous about it, it was all about getting high enough in the ladder for the growth to be self-sustaining.
The very hardest part of economic development, according to Sachs, is getting the first foothold on this Ladder. This is so because, true to its peculiar nature, the lowest rung of the Ladder is very high off the ground. Most of the poor countries cannot easily reach there. If only they could, they would then be climbing as if they were born ladder-climbers, Sachs is sure. Economic development works. It can be successful. It tends to build on itself. But it must get started.
This is where the ones on top of the Ladder has to step in. This is where the role of aid, the crux of Sachs’ advocacy, becomes crucial. If the developed nations could just pull these countries on to the First Rung and perhaps even hold their hand for the next few rungs, we could soon be at The End of Poverty.
So, the rich countries should stop obsessing over trivialities (too much economic thinking, Sachs says, has been directed at the wrong question—how to make the poor countries into textbook models of good governance or efficient market economies) and focus on making sure that every country is safely on the Ladder. All the squabbling and fighting happens when they can’t get on it and focus all their abundant energies towards the exciting adventure of climbing it. Once they are on that task, other peripheral aspects of development would follow naturally. So stop breaking your head over it and get on the real task – this is Sachs radioing the world, loud and clear.
Sachs sees the Ladder and knows that a better world is there for the taking. He sees that much of the world is focused on comparatively trivial things when they could be saving lives and ending misery. That is why Sachs is angry. And this book is the result. It leaves little doubt about the duty of this generation. Sachs is supposed to be most important economist of this generation, and based on his results, he might indeed be. There is definitely no doubt that he is the loudest (especially with Bono for company). You can question his approach, but not his passion.
- Why countries get rich: Location, location, location! (pbs.org)
- Impact Evaluation: Finding What Works (therovingrambler.wordpress.com)
- Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence and Poverty of the Nations (spheana.wordpress.com)
- What I Learned from Johanna Berrigan’s Visit. (rachelsheltonecg300.wordpress.com)
- Jeffrey Sachs: about Typhoon Haiyan and climate change (blogsofbainbridge.typepad.com)