For months, the airwaves and pages have been filled with talk about the devastating economic crisis. Many said that it played a major role in President-elect Barack Obama’s victory over Sen. John McCain, while others have asserted that America is facing what could potentially be its most dire and sustained downturn since the Great Depression.
As serious as the economic crisis is, though, there is another reality that has gotten far less attention in America: the fact that more than 1 billion people, largely in Africa, live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1 per day.
Academic, author and activist Jeffrey Sachs knows this, and writes about it in The End of Poverty, a morally informed call to action to meet the needs of those truly at the bottom of the economic barrel.
Sachs has some high wattage backing-U2 superstar Bono writes in his foreward that audiences pay more attent to Sachs than to him-and spends the early part of the book explaining why by taking the reader through his professional journey.
It has been a dizzying one.
After gaining tenure at Harvard at the tender age of 28, Sachs has spent the past quarter century working in countries across the globe trying to help them right their economic ships.
The End of Poverty chronicles his travels from Bolivia to Poland, where he became popularly known as an advocate of ’shock therapy,‘ and later to India and China.
As engaging and informative as these stories are, Sachs’ recommendation that aid providers do a differential analysis that are specific to the recipients’ country’s needs is a more significant point.
The other major point that emerges from the work: how little money it would actually take not just to put a dent, but to help move those people who subsist on what many would considering a staggeringly low amount of money out of that state and into the next rung.
“Extreme poverty can be ended, not in the time of our grandchildren, but our time,” writes Sachs, who says 2025 is a realistic time frame for his forecast to be realized.
Sachs takes particular aim at the United States, whose contributions to global aid are simultaneously miniscule and perceived by the American public to be far greater than they are. Sachs argues that American can easily give a substantial amout of the billions of dollars necessary to bring the desired change while not putting its economy at risk. Such investment is morally right and self-interested, according to Sachs.
This may be true, but Sachs may find the reception to his message chillier now than when the book was first published in 2005. The staggering list of the challenges Obama faces seems to grow daily, with the Israeli-Hamas conflict only the latest addition.
Of course, Obama’s list of difficulties is only exceed by the expectations he faces from an electorate hungry from him to deliver on the change he promised repeatedly during his 21-month odyssesy to the presidency.
The combination of sky-high expectations, a deep seated economic malaise, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East on the verge of blowing up all may mean that purse strings to Africa and others in extreme poverty may be awfully tight.
Sachs may be right that America has the resources to end the grinding poverty in which close to 1 in 6 of the world’s people live, but, unfortunately, the time frame in which they leave that state is likely to be far longer than 2025, if ever.