133 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2005
Jeffery Sachs' "The End of Poverty" is three books in one: First, it is an exploration of the world, focusing on economics but surveying wide array of topics regarding international relations and politics, and offers a portrait of the planet today. Second, it is a crash course in development economics. Finally, it is an impassioned plea for more western aid to poor countries particularly in Africa.
I know of no better book for understanding the current state of the world. In several brilliant
Chapters, Sachs takes us through the hyperinflation of Bolivia, the post Cold War transition to market economies in Poland, Russia, India and China, and the struggles for existence in Sub Saharan Africa. All these are put into context of International Relations, Economics and Politics, and personified through Sachs' description of his own role in these happenings. It's a tour de force.
The weaknesses here are the complete absence of the Middle East, and Sachs' all-too-human tendency to portray himself as the epicenter of the events he describes, convincing Polish politicians to accept responsibility, and leading the fight against hyper inflation in Bolivia. But his involvement has not necessarily been as influential or beneficial as he portrays it: Bolivia, at least, can hardly be called a success story; Even though Sachs praises both its leaders and its policies, Bolivia is still not up to its 1980 level of GDP per Capita (p. 108).
As a primer on development economics, "The End of Poverty" is a more of a mixed bag. At best, it offers powerful insights, particularly about the importance of Geography to economic development. Although the case has been made before (most famously by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies but also by David Landes and others), Sachs really drives the point home about how close a relationship exists between geography and economic possibilities. Possibly he overstates the case somewhat - based on their geography, Egypt and Panama should have been economic empires - but Sachs truly has opened my eyes to a dimension in the question of economic development which I had barely considered before.
Africa is the chief victim of its geography, Sachs argues. In his view, the solution to Africa's problems is not really economic - it is not a matter of right monetary and fiscal policies but of hospital beds, malaria nets and AIDS treatments - readily available technocratic solutions which are missing for lack of funds only.
On the other hand, some of the chapters of theory are painful to read, particularly the one in which Sachs compares development economics to emergency medicine. His history of the world economy from time immemorial to the present is pedestrian and hardly innovative (it owes much to David Landes' superior The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor . Like Landes, it also owes much to Adam Smith - he is quoted in virtually every chapter of Sachs' book). But development theory - as opposed to technocratic solutions - is ridiculously over simplified (in Sachs' view, it boils down to two words - "foreign aid" pp. 247-250), as William Easterly points out in his review [...]- it's false to think that we know all the answers, and that the UN and other aid agency are sufficiently efficient to carry out the solution even if we had known them. For development economics, Easterly's own The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics is a must read.
As an advocate, Sachs's chief cause is persuading Western governments, and particularly the US, to live up to their obligation of spending 0.7 percent of each nation's GDP on aid. Sachs is an enthusiastic advocate of the Millenium Development Goals - a UN program to half poverty by 2015 - and of UN secretary general Kofi Annan (whom he calls "the world's finest stayrsman" p. 205. For a more balanced - although still highly favourable - view of Annan, see The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power).
Sachs effectively promotes his development goals from challenges left and right; Sachs points out that African Governments are no more corrupt then other governments (pp. 312-314); that "economic freedom" does not guarantee economic growth (p.320), and that reducing Infant Mortality rates coincides with a reduction in birth rates (pp. 324-325). I was also shocked to realize how little the US spends on foreign Aid (I knew it was little, but I didn't know it proportionally less than any Western country save Italy, p. 302) and that the 400 richest Americans are 20% richer than the one hundred and sixty one million, three hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants of Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda (p. 305). Sachs convincingly argues that America often finds itself militarily involved in economically collapsing states (whether Vietnam, Lebanon, Zaire or Bosnia Herzegovina), and that indeed almost every country in which the US had to intervene suffered "state failure" (p.334). Wouldn't it be better to spend more on preventive medicine instead of risking American troops in the battlefield?
From the left, although Sachs identifies with the motives of the "Seattle Movement", he disagrees with their policy recommendations, calling for more - not less - trade, and for a large role for Multi National Corporations in reducing poverty.
Yet Sachs offers little place for dissenting views? Is the UN really this effective an instrument for poverty reduction? Is money spent in Africa really solving problems? To date, no country has been lifted from poverty via the large scale government sponsored policies Sachs promotes - instead, they have developed through mostly their own efforts with limited amounts of outside help. Africa does need more foreign aid - but maybe it needs more foreign humility, too.
171 of 189 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2005
A wonderful thesis. The initial tone and first-hand accounts and analyses (Chapters 1-4) are great. Sachs' first few chapters read like Thomas Friedman, only Sachs publishes in journals and Friedman publishes in the New York Times. And Friedman has a few best sellers. Sachs is a very smart, accomplished, compassionate economist.
Sachs tries to provide some context. He seems to have personally saved first Bolivia (Chapter 5), then Poland (Chapter 6), then Russia (Chapter 7), then China (Chapter 8), and then India (Chapter 9), not from poverty, but from the mistakes of (American) foreign policy, greedy bankers, and the IMF. He always seems to get it right and they're wrong. He decries their solutions in favor of his own: demand debt forgiveness.
Then Sachs shifts into using his economic, statistical, and networking skills to propose solutions to eradicate poverty. His fundamental argument is that the rich countries need to give more money to the poor countries, and he seems pretty angry about the lack of compassion, especially from the United States, for the world's poor. Perhaps Sachs could start with his home institution, Harvard. This university has an almost egregious endowment in excess of $22 billion, pays its top fund manager $50 million a year, and employs Andrei Shleifer who "was discovered by the U.S. government to be making personal investments in Russia at the same time that he was on a U.S. government contract to advise the Russian leadership on privatization." (p. 144) This privatization effort, as Sachs reports, sold $100 billion in assets for $1 billion. Sachs thinks that we should then forgive the Russian government its debts. Rather than forgive debt, why not transfer some of that $100 billion to the creditors and not to political cronies favored by the government?
Look at China. Sachs commends their two thousand years of "a workable model of political organization" and their "remarkably little internal violence," only to show how China spent the last thousand years watching its GDP decline from 120% to 5% of western European GDP and employing policies, even recently, where "tens of millions of deaths resulted." Starving tens if not hundreds of millions of your own people is internal violence. Wiping out 95% of your GDP advantage is hardly a "workable model". And now, after a thousand years of self-imposed misery, China has climbed back from 5% to 10% of western European per capita GDP and their economic development is seen as a triumph. And Sachs laments how under British rule Indian GDP per capital grew at a 0.2% rate from 1870 to independence in 1947; compared to China's self-managed decline, British rule might be commended.
Sachs disdains the "money down the drain" argument (p. 310) against foreign aid, an argument that trillions have already been given, but counters it with an annual per capita expenditure calculation that doesn't counter the "money down the drain" argument. He describes Hernando DeSoto's "Mystery of capitalism" argument for deeds and titles to land for the poor as " a single factor ... to explain single-handedly the failures of development." (p. 321) Yes, economic development is more complicated than that, but isn't this a better, enduring, sustainable start than the "mystery" of one-time debt forgiveness? And DeSoto focuses on what Sachs ignores: self-help, or micro enterprises, as a grass roots alternative to repeated, well-intentioned but top heavy governmental interventions.
Sachs cites a study (pp. 322-23) that concludes that African men have fewer sex partners than men in Brazil and Thailand, to show that morals are not the cause of African AIDS, citing migrant workers and the lack of circumcision as possible explanations, but he does not seem to want to assign a root cause for the widespread prevalence of AIDS in Africa, moral or migratory. But the best cure for AIDS is prevention, not cheap AIDS drugs or foreign aid. And what does he think causes AIDS to spread in Africa? Dirty needles? Tattoo parlors? I once asked a Marshall Scholar applicant if she would consider adding an abstinence argument to her condom distribution AIDS prevention program in Central America. She declined, saying that she would not want to impose her morals on the people. It is a matter of biology, not morality, but sometimes moral admonitions can solve biological problems. People need information more than money, prevention more than drug treatments.
Sachs lauds the west, especially Britain, for acting against its own self-interest to abolish the slave trade (pp. 361-62) but fails to note the presence of slavery in Africa and Asia today. He wants to "rescue the IMF" (p. 366), the same organization that for most of the book he sees as unfit to deal with the debt crisis (see John Perkins' "Confessions of an economic hit man"), but he offers no rescue plan. He concludes by trying to dispel other "myths" (Chapter 16) and offering three pages (pp. 365-67) of argumentative platitudes, e.g., "redeem" the United States, which he claims is the world's "most feared and divisive country."
But all is not lost. The Institute for International Economics has reported that world poverty fell from 44% of the global population in 1980 to 13% in 2000, its fastest decline in history. This result indicates that the United Nations main Millennium Development Goal (p. 211) -- reducing world poverty below 15 percent -- has already been met. Another Harvard professor, David Landes, provides a more thorough historical context and explanation in "The wealth and poverty of nations," including the effects of culture, climate, and tropical diseases on poverty. C. K. Prahalad's "The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid" shows how basic business and marketing practices are lifting people out of poverty more than any government, NGO, or debt-forgiveness program. "The new heroes," from the recent PBS series, funded in part by a foundation started by the founder of eBay, shows micro enterprises that work. Sachs shows that Hillary Clinton's take on the African proverb, "It takes a village," doesn't seem to be working in African villages. I really wanted to love and recommend this book. A telling sign might have been when Sachs describes Kofi Annan as "the world's finest statesman." (p. 205) Rather than just give poor countries fish (or recommend that poor countries tear up their bills for their fish), rich countries ought to teach people how to raise a diverse, sustainable economy.
73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Sachs covers a lot of ground: a bit of world economic history, a bit of travelogue, moral arguments for foreign aid, and ... The Plan (to end world poverty by 2025).
The Plan itself, while mostly fascinating to read (with patches of exhausting technical detail), has its challenges. The biggest problem is that, while the investments he outlines will theoretically jump-start growth, it has never been tested, and the West has a long history of failed development ideas. Among other more technical points, Sachs either underestimates the inefficiencies in the aid agencies and in governments, or he overestimates the ease of overcoming them.
But the plan (and how to pay for it) makes up only four out of eighteen chapters. Here is what else awaits you: a brief economic history of the world and characterization of the rich-poor divides in the world today (chapters 1 and 2), a primer on growth economics (chapter 3), Sachs's prescription for how development economics should be practiced (chapter 4), tales of Sachs's very high level consulting in Bolivia, Poland, and Russia (chapters 5 through 7), economic histories of India and China (chapters 8 and 9), an overview of the economic and health situation in Africa (chapter 10), Sachs's views on how the West should respond to terrorism (chapter 11), The Plan (and how to pay for it (chapters 12 through 15), dispelling myths about why aid doesn't work (chapter 16), and the pep talk (chapters 17 and 18). The book can largely be read piecemeal. I particularly enjoyed chapters 1, 5 through 9, and 16.
One wearisome feature is the self-promotion. Sachs is the center of everything good that happens in this book. He has only praise for organizations he still works with (the UN and Columbia University's Earth Institute) but ample criticism for others (the World Bank, Western governments).
For more in this field, William Easterly's The Elusive Quest for Growth gives an excellent account of trends in development aid for Africa and why they haven't worked. Robert Klitgaard's Tropical Gangsters is an entertaining and insightful memoir of a World Bank economist advising in Sub-Saharan Africa.
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2006
Like a lot of college students, I read "The End of Poverty" in a comfortable coffeeshop in America and thought it sounded pretty neat. I was an economics major, with a specialty in developmental econ, and Professor Sachs's idea of "clinical economics" really struck a chord with me. After all, as Sachs says, "it's up to us" to end global poverty, right?
Well, not really. See, since I sat in that coffeehouse and read "End of Poverty," I've served in the Peace Corps in Central Africa, done a lot more reading and actually gotten to work with officials from most of the aid agencies (governmental and non-) that Sachs talks about in this book. And I've come to realize that Professor Sachs's central idea in this book - what Professor William Easterly calls the next "Big New Plan" - is probably fatally flawed. It's flawed not because Prof. Sachs's research isn't top-notch - it mostly is, with some exceptions - but because it rests on two very weak assumptions. The first is that rich countries will ever "solve" poverty in the Third World through big, top-down programs designed and funded by Western planners. That is patently false. The second is that corruption isn't actually that big a problem. Also, way off the mark.
We in the West would really like to think that it will only take the right combinations of (our) policies and (our) funds to "lift up" the rest of the world out of poverty. But this simply isn't the case. Obviously, aid has an important role to play. But until many third world governments - yeah, I'm looking directly at you, Afica - get serious about governing, and not just enriching the local venal coterie of government sycophants at the expense of Western taxpayers, "international development" will amount to little more than an elaborate charade played out for the benefit of well-meaning Westerners who inexplicably keep sending their money to the Third World despite precious few tangible results. (And I'm afraid that many of the old hands in most of the major development organizations agree, when they speak candidly.)
Again, Prof. Sachs is a smart guy with an important perspective. But if you're looking for a more real-world approach to solutions for modern international development schemes, I highly suggest Robert Calderisi's "The Trouble with Africa" and/or William Easterly's "The White Man's Burden."
148 of 172 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2005
The book opens in a most powerful fashion by depicting the tremendous need of impoverished people throughout the developing world. The views, both personal through his visits, and systemic through graphs and charts, make the need apparent. I felt, both intellectually and emotionally, the desire to help. So in that sense Jeffrey Sachs has made his case.
What the book also does well is describe the many reasons why the cycle of poverty exists. He discusses and dissects the many misconceptions of why many are in poverty. He describes the greatest challenge is overcoming the poverty trap. (Page 73). Several chapters go in depth into the economies of China, Russia, India and other developing countries. I found these sections to be solidly researched and well presented.
The book does a great job in presenting how certain investments can reverse the cycle of poverty. Human capital, infrastructure, knowledge capital, etc., are all potential ways to influence and lift those suffering out of poverty, however these need to be addressed systemically in order to be effective.
There are a few sections where he loses his train of thought and attacks American politics; this weakens his overall prose in my opinion. If we are to truly commit to solve "world hunger" this will need to be a bi-partisan effort. Emotional attacks on one party will not move this forward.
The only real weakness of this book is what it doesn't say. Jeffrey ascribes all root causes and solutions to a government effort. In seems impossible in a nearly 400 page book on poverty, to not address materialism, greed, and the culture of valuing self above all else. Yet no where does he address personal responsibility. The fact that the efficiency of non-governmental charitable work through organizations like "World Vision" vastly outperforms any government processes is ignored here. The book is poorer for the lack of addressing personal accountability for each of us to care for the poor in our world community.
I recommend this book despite these gaps. There are many who suffer needlessly in our world while we sit in comfort. The book does contain some great insights into the systems that may help reduce or stop the cycle of poverty and the resulting tragic consequences to children and families. The book is written very well, topics are laid out clearly, and the research is first rate.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2007
This book was a tough read for me. Professor Sachs has many interesting things to say but his self congratulatory certainty made me put it down a number of times. His constant pejorative use of the terms "rich countries" and "poor countries" is simplistic and adolescent. The first third of the book is essentially a tribute to himself and his macro economic adventure stories from the 80s and 90s in Eastern Europe, Russia and Latin America. Unfortunately many of them have unraveled of late and are no longer the successes he thought they would be.
The second third is largely devoted to AIDS, Malaria and hunger as they effect and influence developing economies. Much can be found on this elsewhere but it is none the less instructive. His use of medical diagnosis as a metaphoric device gets tedious but being a nurse, maybe maybe its just me.
In the last third we really get let down. Sachs shares his celebrity pal Bono's simple enthusiasm for foreign debt relief without considering in any serious way alternatives for lending/giving money to developing countries in the future. After all, forgiving debt that was never going to be paid back anyway is really not that big a deal. It only puts countries in a position to start borrowing again. The issue of what to do and say to developing countries in providing new foreign aid the day after the debt is forgiven is largely given short shrift. After giving a brief nod to microfinance, community based economic development,and the need for "transparency and accountability" his ultimate answer is more of the same...huge increases in direct aid to to the governments that have been stealing and squandering all along. Any concerns about corruption and diversion of aid funds are cavalierly dismissed as "racism" and he moves on.
Sachs waxes passionately about the UN as the ideal instrument of economic development and goes so far as to describe Kofi Annan as a "great statesmen", something that made me gag. The UN is a corrupt bureaucratic and woefully inefficient organization and has only become more so under Annan's crooked leadership. As someone who lives and works in developing Africa, I can tell you with certainty that corruption and diversion of aid is a huge problem that is literally killing people every day. Allowing people to steal simply cannot continue. The answer to ending poverty by 2025, if such a thing is to be made possible cannot be more of the same. Read carefully, that is all Sachs has to offer. A truly new approach to engaging with developing nations compassionately and constructively would be most welcomed. You won't find it in this book.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2006
This book changed my outlook in two ways.
First, it redefined what I think of as poverty. For me and I'm sure for many others who haven't thought about it deeply, "poverty" called up images that ranged from trailer parks to ghettos to third-world sweatshops to famine stricken villages. When Sachs speaks of ending poverty he is referring to extreme poverty of famines and state failures only, and not the relative poverty found in affluent countries. While someone born into a ghetto may not have the same opportunities as someone born in a suburb, they are unlikely to die because of a lack of food, water, or shelter. In countries stricken by extreme poverty, by contrast, millions die each year because "they are too poor to live."
By concentrating on just this set of extremely poor people, Sachs usefully narrows the scope of the problem he wants to address. As a hard-nosed realist, I would take issue with anyone utopian enough to think that relative poverty can be eliminated, especially after the disastorous attempts to do just that by the Communist countries of the last century. But Sachs does not want to give every sweatshop worker a BMW or every trailer park dweller a diamond ring. He wants us to take on the task of restructuring the world so that death because of want no longer happens. It's something that we in the first world have proved is possible, since we have already done it for our own citizens.
This leads to the second way this book changed my outlook. Sachs spends the majority of the book showing how most of the extremely poor people of the world live in countries that simply do not have the capability of helping themselves. Most countries, even those in the third world, have entered the "virtous cycle" of capital accumulation and investment. But in the extremely poor countries all existing capital is consumed simply to stay alive. Indeed, in many cases the amount of capital per person is decreasing thanks to a growing population or environmental degredation. The problems that I had always thought of as the key factors to helping these countries, such as less corruption/better governance or culture factors like women's rights, are not at the root of poverty. In fact, given the in-depth explanations in this book I am now convinced that it is possible to have a perfectly governed, free, and equitable country that is nonetheless doomed to unending poverty and suffering.
The only way out of the poverty trap is an infusion of capital from outside to pay for basic infrastructure and development. That is where our task, and our moral responsibility, begins. If, like me, you always considered poverty an unfortunate but unavoidable condition of the world at large I urge you to read this book. It makes a clear and compelling case that if we commit ourselves we can make the world a radically better place.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2006
I must start with a disclaimer, I do not mean to say Sachs, Bono and co. is not doing positive things that might help alleviate poverty. But a small possible help is all what Sachs/Bono policies might (or might not) provide.
End of poverty clearly seems too out of scope for anything that Sachs proposes. For example, "The bottom line is quite clear: for just 1% of the US GDP, or a 5% surcharge on families making over $200,000 a year, extreme poverty can be eliminated by the year 2025."
'A country is not a business' that could get all its problems solved by someone plugging in a li'l money. Foreign aid and debt relief is only a band-aid for a grave sickness, but a band-aid it atleast is and must be lauded for that.
Read this book if it might help you get convinced to vote for a govt. that favors debt relief and increased foreign aid et cetera. But donot read it if you want to look for an all encompassing theory for the 'end of poverty' as the title presumptuously claims. For poverty is only a symptom for other deeper malaises that hinder the overall growth of societies. End of poverty will need things that nobody else can do for Africans and must come from within their impoverished home. Foreign govts. and Rockstars cannot end poverty, they could've helped but alas things like birth control, social reforms, literacy drives do not make hip bestselling gestures.
Having said that, if separated from its grandiosely presumptuous claim and title, this book is certainly informative and scholarly.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2012
For all his fame as a development economist, Jeffrey Sachs has no understanding of his subject. He cites the failure of people to purchase a $5 anti-malaria mosquito net as evidence that they don't have $5, when these same people spend much more than that on mobile phone communications, transportation, and other things of importance to them. What Sachs doesn't understand is that A) People don't buy the net because malaria is not their primary concern; B) They don't believe it will solve the problem; C) They don't buy it because they know some donor-funded project will soon come along and give it to them for free; or D) All of the above. And lo and behold, Jeffrey Sachs has a program to distribute them for free! So much for any local entrepreneur who might have provided them on a sustainable basis.
This is an illustration of all of Sachs' "solutions" - just pump enough money into a place and development will happen. Anyone who has visited the boondoggles of his Millennium Development villages has seen the waste and the futility. This was all tried back in the 1960s and 1970s, and the reasons it didn't work haven't changed. Outsiders like Sachs who have never spent time on the ground implementing projects in the field go around unwittingly deepening dependency and corruption with these wasteful programs, while African economists advocate for trade and investment and improved terms of commerce as the solution to underdevelopment.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2007
Just an FYI, if you are considering buying this book I wouldn't use the reviews as an absolute reference. I noticed a number of factual errors in the reviews already posted, particularly the really negative ones. Jeffrey Sachs is reported to have made points he never made (at least in my reading of the book); not to have covered points that he did in fact cover; and to be 'all for' certain things that in reality he only mentions as a minor part of his program. Just something to take note of, if you're shopping here.
Overall I thought this book was a gem. First the positive...it was easy enough for a beginner like me to understand (not to mention interesting - no small task for an economics book) yet contained a wealth of information and a great analysis of poverty in Africa and other parts of the world. Jeffrey Sachs goes into detail about many of the things we're always told about poverty (usually without any supporting evidence, other than 'this is just the way it is') and give compelling reasons for why he believes these answers are false. In one instance, he notes that people repeatedly blame almost all of Africa's problems on corruption, and then gives very interesting data to support the idea that this isn't the case. For example, the fact that countries in other parts of the world with similar levels of corruption have in fact made much stronger economic gains, and the fact that decreased corruption shows little correlation to a stronger economy among countries within Africa.
The analysis regarding why so many parts of Africa are trapped in poverty and what measures need to be taken to address this was the most fascinating part of the book for me. There is a lot of information about Africa's unique situation in terms of climate, disease, geography, and history. I also enjoyed reading about many of the myths surrounding foreign aid, for example, how little of it is actually money, spent on things that matter, as opposed to various other programs dressed up as 'donations'.
Another plus, for me, was the fact that Jeffrey Sachs seems very balanced. He does not vilify or over-praise the various groups he comes into contact with, rather, he is able to see both their positive and negative traits. He doesn't leap on to one side of an issue, praising market force as the savior of all things or claiming that only a socialist model is a humanitarian model. In a world that tends to be polarized, he is able to make a rational case for a blend of techniques, ideas, and philosophies.
There were a few cons, although overall I highly recommend this book. As a few people have mentioned, Jeffrey Sachs comes off as a little self-congratulatory in parts. Don't get me wrong - maybe his record is just 'that' good, but my guess would be that he was trying to establish some credibility by describing all of the times he's been right in the past when established thinking has been incorrect. There were also a few places where even I, new to this topic though I am, thought his plans sounded a little idealistic. The idea that we are going to finance foreign aid by a special tax specific to the wealthy, requiring them to give a percent of their income to foreign assistance, for example.
There were also a few areas where I thought more information should have been provided. For example, the book says that of course measures must be taken to safeguard against corruption in government and make sure that money is being spent as it should be, and then moves on. How difficult or easy actually implementing these measures would be, or how effective any existing measures really are, isn't really discussed. Another big question that I was waiting to have answered was what the proposed solution for Africa's geography issues are. There is a long description of how Africa's unique geography has made it difficult for industry to develop, but no real follow-up as to how they're supposed to eventually get around this. Will improved infrastructure and roads solve the problem? Industries that do not require much in the way of transport? I wish this had been revisited. Of course a book can only be so long and I suppose there are always going to be things that are not covered in total detail, but I felt there were places when a little more would have helped.
Overall, whether you agree with everything or not, I think there's no denying that there's a lot of great information in this book.