The End of Poverty

Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty was the third title we read in our book club.  The book was easy to read, contained no religion-based arguments, and appeared to have been written for people with very little knowledge of economics and very little knowledge of world history.  Since I am trying to improve my knowledge of both areas, I appreciated the review.  After a few very well organized introductory chapters (the kind that actually preview the structure and contents of the book), Sachs describes several chapters of his life as a globe-trotting economic superstar.  I was not expecting this auto-biographical aspect of the book, but I think it helped me understand why he is so interested in ending extreme poverty in the next 20 years.  And now we’ve arrived at the crux of the book:  the First World has the ability and motivation to do what needs to be done to end extreme poverty in a few decades.  After the history, the primer on macro-economics, the charts and maps, the personal vignettes and the very clear descriptions of extreme poverty and what is needed to eradicate it, Sachs ends the books with multiple different ways of looking at how painless it would be for us (the First World and the United States in particular) to give up the funds required to completely eliminate extreme poverty from Earth.

I found the math quite stunning.  Sachs says the developed world needs to give 0.7% of our GNP to eliminate extreme poverty.  In the United States, we give 0.18% of our GNP (and that is including a bump up for private donations).  The last several chapters contain the fleshed out math related to where and how this money should be used, how we’ve previously committed to giving it…..but have never actually done it, and how ending extreme poverty would make our lives here in the United States much better and much safer.

A reader trying to save time could start at chapter 11 and read to the end of the book.  You would miss some history and some definitions, but you would cover most of the real argument of the book.   Someone in a real hurry could just listen to this lecture by Sachs which is not a complete review of the book but does cover both his auto-biographical interests/background and his main closing argument.

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