The End of Poverty

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey D. Sachs draws on his scholarly expertise and experience to argue that extreme global poverty can be eliminated by the year 2025, that is, if the wealthy nations of the world truly wish to do so. Sachs, a Harvard-educated economist, rejects the view of those who see globalization simply as a conspiracy to enable the rich and powerful to get richer and more powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless. For Sachs, globalization, in some form or other, is definitely the wave of the future. More to the point, globalization, if carried out in an enlightened way, can be a source of hope, evenand especiallyfor the poorest people.

On the other hand, Sachs does not believe that supercharged globalization will automatically end extreme forms of economic deprivation. In fact, if badly guided, globalization can exacerbate problems, causing more economic upheaval than is necessary, failing to alleviate the pain that often accompanies rapid economic change, and turning a blind eye to deep-rooted stagnation. The last issue is crucial to Sachs. In the absence of special measures, the most extreme poverty will surely remain resistant to conventional forms of market-driven global economic development. Thus, while Sachs embraces globalization, he is definitely not among those who offer unqualified applause for the rapidly globalizing economy. Globalization will either be kind or cruel to the worst-off, depending on the policies and values of those who are prosperous. If people’s hearts are in the right places, Sachs says, and if they open their minds to what actually works (rather than clinging to dogmatic biases), there exists an unprecedented opportunity to end extreme poverty throughout the world. Indeed, there is no excuse not to do so.

In the opening chapters of the book, Sachs presents a historical overview of the world economy and introduces readers to the concept of clinical economics. Previous to the last few centuries, nearly the entire human race was poor by today’s standards. True, most societies had a class structure of some sort, but there was not enough in the way of wealth or productivity for massive economic fortunes to be amassed. Put another way, even the economically privileged were badly off compared to a middle-class person in one of the today’s rich nations. Thus, radical austerity and relative global equality were the rule. Over the last three centuries or so, however, global wealth has expanded exponentially. Driven by global trade, market forces, and capitalist zeal, the human race has amassed undreamed-of wealth. The problem is that this great economic expansion has been uneven, giving many millions of people cushy lives with ever-expanding expectations, leaving other millions of people at the tumultuous early stages of prosperity, and, finally, leaving still other millions of people in dire economic straits, where even the bare necessities of life are inadequately supplied, and the prospects for improvement are truly dim.

It is in his explanation of (and remedies for) the above inequalities where Sachs parts company with most cheerleaders for global capitalism. For one thing, though Sachs does not blame everything bad on colonialism, he is quite willing to admit its role in adding an element of naked exploitation to the spread of global capitalism. Even more than this, Sachs thinks uneven development and lingering poverty can be explained by the different economic, social, and political conditionsincluding, but not limited to colonialismwhich have been and are currently faced by various nations and regions of the world. This is in direct opposition to those who see the world’s poor populations as being substantially responsible for their own condition, due to sloth, moral backwardness, or other cultural weaknesses, including the wrongheaded failure to wholeheartedly embrace the ideology and policies of free-market capitalism. Not surprisingly, this divergence of explanations leads to divergent policy recommendations as well.

For conventional economists and the policymakers they advise, the task is simple. Economically distressed people must be thrown into the marketplace to compete and, as the cliché goes, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The job of wealthy nations (and the world banking and development system they control), therefore, is to employ a one-size-fits-all policy which encourages (and even compels) austerity, small government, and as close a condition as one can get to the abstract marketplace described in freshman economics courses. This is where Sachs’s notion of clinical economics comes in. Drawing an analogy to the field of medicine, Sachs likens this conventional approach to nineteenth century doctoring when, no matter what the malady was, the treatment offered was likely to be a generous dose of...

(The entire section is 1975 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Booklist 101, no. 12 (February 15, 2005): 1043.

Business Week, April 11, 2005, p. 20.

Commentary 119, no. 6 (June, 2005): 71-72.

The Economist 374 (March 19, 2005): 87.

Foreign Affairs 84, no. 3 (May/June, 2005): 133-134.

Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 2 (January 15, 2005): 111.

National Review 57, no. 10 (June 6, 2005): 52-53.

New Statesman 134 (May 16, 2005): 47-49.

The New York Times Book Review 154 (April 24, 2005): 18.

The New Yorker 81, no. 8 (April 11, 2005): 72-77.

Publishers Weekly 252, no. 6 (February 7, 2005): 51.

The Wall Street Journal 245, no. 57 (March 23, 2005): D8.