March 15, 2005

Can Poverty be Ended?

This post was originally made on In Today's news on March 11, 2005.

Poverty Can Be Ended

The link above is to the cover of the most recent issue of Time magazine, and you need to be a subscriber to read the full article. I picked up a hard copy of the magazine last night because of the cover article, The End of Poverty.

It's definitely worth picking up at a newsstand if you are not a subscriber.

The article defines extreme poverty as a state where people subsists on less than one dollar per day. One billion people live in such poverty. Billions more live on one to two dollars per day.

The article is really a sort of advertisement for a book entitled The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by a Harvard economist who has been working for the U.N. named Jeff Sachs.

The forward of the book is written by Bono, and the book is endorsed by billionaire, George Soros, who has worked in international development of democracy, and gained fame for starting in opposition to Bush's pre-emptive war policy as a means of advancing democracy.

In the article, Sachs boldly asserts that extreme poverty can be ended by the year 2025 if we in the developed world set our minds to doing it.

The article explodes myths about the roadblocks to ending poverty, such as blaming poverty of corrupt governments, socialist policies, laziness of individuals, or distribution problems.

While all of these factors are obstacles, Sachs argues that not a single one of them is insurmountable, and he argues that it has been proven already that every single on of them can be conquered.

Sachs carefully avoids pointing blame on failed policies of the past without entirely dismissing the effects of developed world exploitation of the developing nations.

Acknowledging there have been failures in the past, Sachs seems to want to direct our attention forward to the future.

The article highlights several case studies on the effects of poverty and what causes it.

Factors like disease and drought are the root cause of such conditions of extreme poverty.

While dealing with such issues beyond human control sounds daunting, the article points to concrete solutions that have worked and lays out concrete plans for how to tackle the issues everywhere they occur everywhere on the globe.

I'll be re-reading the article over the weekend, but what jumps out at me the most on a first reading is that United States is not doing what it can.

While we give more money in raw dollars than any nation on earth, we give nowhere near the share of GNP of other nations. We are nowhere near monies our government has committed already to helping developing nations.

What have we committed?

We committed 0.7 percent of our GNP. Unless I mis-read the article on my first pass, according to Sachs, we only need to give 0.5 percent to accomplish the task (assuming some other developed nations do the same).

What exactly are we talking here?

We're talking about mere fraction of the cost of the war in Iraq: the amount we committed is a total of under $80 billion. The war in Iraq has cost several hundred billion.

How much are we actually giving?

Polls indicate that the average American thinks we give 25 percent of our annual GNP to developing nations. We actually gave 0.15 percent of our GNP in the year 2003.

The web site for the book has a page detailing the facts outlined in the article.

In the article, Sachs points out that Afghanistan was among the nations classified as having almost universal extreme poverty, and we could have eliminated that poverty.

Without saying it explicitly, the implication is that 9/11 might not have happened if we had done what we could.

Five developed nations already give the 0.7 percent of their GNP. These five nations are the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

How effective would this expenditure be in improving the condition of the extreme poor?

Sachs argues that the money spent would move every single developing nation into the type of development seen in South-East Asia over the last decade. Bangladesh is an example of what can be done in such a short period of time.

Currently, the United States sends to sub-saharan Africans living in extreme poverty defined as those who survive on less than one dollar per day the equivalent of $30 per person per year, of which only $12 per person per year makes it to those individuals living in extreme poverty.

The remaining $18 go back to developing nations for administration costs.

In the article, Sachs does have advice for charities, non-profits, and NGO's as well, and he does encourage us all to consider increasing our private charitable donations.

On the web site for the book, Sachs offers practical tips in a What You Can Do page that includes both political action such as writing your representatives, and several charities that are taking effective steps to end poverty.

While every penny of charitable contribution helps, from the viewpoint of ending extreme poverty by 2025 as a specific target date, it will take a committed effort by the governments of the developed world.

Sachs offers a variety of reasons to take up this cause, always starting with an appeal to moral conscience, but also offering reasons based on peace, security, and the promotion of our own economic growth and opportunities.

Polls indicate that the average American does not think that one percent of our GNP is too much to give to the cause of eliminating extreme poverty. We are 85 percent short of that goal.

If we want to end extreme poverty, we can.

If we can, we should.

The sacrifice we would need to make is real, but not great.

The only issue is whether we are willing to make it a priority - and especially making it a higher priority than our current pro-military policies.