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Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-22-2005, 08:45 PM   #1
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Book report: The End of Poverty

Jeffrey Sachs is an economist who writes far better than any other dismal scientist I've ever read. Lately he's been traveling Africa with Bono (yes, the U2 singer) to drum up aid & debt relief.

"The End of Poverty" tells how he's been helping other areas of the world for the last 20 years-- Bolivia, Poland, Russia, India, and even China. He says that economists tend to favor just two or three approaches to solving problems that can actually be caused by eight or nine different factors. Instead of assuming that one symptom is always caused by the same problem, economists need to adopt a more "clinical" approach that depends on their individual knowledge of a country, its culture, and especially its transportation geography. Needless to say Sachs does not like the IMF.

I've read economic texts before, so I was really surprised to be enjoying his tales of helping other countries. His story of stopping Bolivia's hyperinflation is neat-- and he had to overcome the resistance of most of the govt as well as the U.S. diplomats. He was in Poland when they broke free of communism and he tells the daily drama of helping convert their socialist economy to capitalism. Later he covers his failures in Russia and problems in India & China.

But he really developed his "clinical" theory in Africa. While AIDS is a terrible problem in many of its countries, malaria is even worse. Unlike other parts of the world, sub-Saharan African mosquitoes have essentially mutated a preference for biting humans (instead of other mammals) and the region is practically optimized for breeding them. In that part of Africa the humans actually exist as a means of supporting the superior race of mosquitoes. Add in bad transportation geography (a lack of roads & rivers), a lack of irrigation agriculture, plus dry weather-- and most of the countries never get a step up on the prosperity ladder. The sad story is that much of the malaria problems can be avoided by simple equipment like mosquito netting and other 50-cent solutions. Bill Gates has pledged $23B toward a malaria vaccine but this is the world's most stubborn mosquito enclave. In South America, Europe, & India, the govt ministers that he worked with were frequently thrown out of office by the next year's elections. In Africa those people were dying of AIDS or malaria at an even higher rate.

Sachs isn't very enamored of the U.S. govt either. He claims that an effort to eliminate hunger by 20 or so of the world's richest countries could be funded by 0.7% of GDP. (The U.S. is currently funding less than a tenth of that, and hasn't exceeded 0.7% since the Marshall Plan.) He makes a telling point that foreign aid is far cheaper than a strong military, using the Iraq war budget as an example.

His focus is the rest of the world instead of U.S. poverty, however, and he doesn't really discuss how to help the poor who are adrift among the world's highest per capita GDP countries.

Admittedly the book does have maps and some figures & graphs. It bogs down a little in the final chapters on implementing the solutions. But the first few chapters were good enough to carry me through the rest of the book. If you're only going to read one serious world-problem-solving work this year, Sachs makes it easy to understand yet compelling.
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-22-2005, 09:51 PM   #2
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

Nords,

If you want to know how to solve any world problem, you don't have to read a book. Just ask the board. We have at least a dozen posters who know all the answers.
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 05:50 AM   #3
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

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We have at least a dozen posters who know all the answers.
Of course I do. Just get replace their bad governments with efficient ones, and the sensible people in poor nations will build a better economy. See, I solved most world poverty in one easy sentence.
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 07:51 AM   #4
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

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Originally Posted by Michael
Of course I do. Just get replace their bad governments with efficient ones, and the sensible people in poor nations will build a better economy. See, I solved most world poverty in one easy sentence.
Will this change happen before or after you get accidentily shot in back of the head?
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 10:32 AM   #5
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

Tough crowd... :P
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 03:27 PM   #6
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

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Will this change happen before or after you get accidentally shot in back of the head?
I'm not worried. The powerful people know that no one will listen to me, even though they would be better off if they did. Those in power wouldn't waste their time on an insignificant nobody like me.
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 03:37 PM   #7
 
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

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Originally Posted by Michael
Of course I do.* Just get replace their bad governments with efficient ones, and the sensible people in poor nations will build a better economy.* See, I solved most world poverty in one easy sentence.*
For every complicated problem in the world, there is a simple solution that won't work!
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 04:22 PM   #8
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

If I may be so bold as to go back to the topic of the thread...

Nords, thanks for sharing the book report.* I'm always interested in an unbiased review.* I'd like to read this one, wish I'd seen your review before this morning's bookstore binge.* There's just something about a rainy Sunday and a good bookstore that makes me spend money.

Anyway, it seems common sense that solutions to poverty are likely to be as diverse as the cultures in poverty.* I think the inequites that currently exist globally make the chances of "sensible people building a better economy" a problematic solution.* Starting from a position of "all things being equal" that might be common sense, but reality is a little different.

The work I've been doing in Honduras involves microcredit lending to women-owned businesses.* It intrigued me because of the non-charitable nature of the "assistance."* We've learned, maybe, that just handing out charity doesn't do anything to help break the poverty cycle.* It's as old an approach as "teach a man to fish" but hasn't really been implemented by the large agencies like USAID or IMF, becuase it takes much more time, effort and monitoring than handouts.

I sometimes feel discouraged by statistics like this: "an effort to eliminate hunger by 20 or so of the world's richest countries could be funded by 0.7% of GDP"* because it is probably true, and yet also probably completely unrealistic to expect.

Here are some links about the microcredit approach if anyone's interested.

http://www.grameen-info.org/index.html
http://www.adelantefoundation.org/
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 06:27 PM   #9
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

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Originally Posted by Sheryl
Nords, thanks for sharing the book report.* I'm always interested in an unbiased review.* I'd like to read this one, wish I'd seen your review before this morning's bookstore binge.* There's just something about a rainy Sunday and a good bookstore that makes me spend money.
A library card, an interlibrary loan system, an internet connection, and a library website. I haven't been in a bookstore in months and I'm only in a library for the time it takes to drop off & pick up. Oddly enough I've made a great friend out of the head librarian despite hardly spending any time there...

People can't choose their birthplace, and that determines geography and (for almost everyone) their political system. I probably shouldn't be so amazed at how geography & transportation infrastructure affects economic prosperity, but Sachs really brought that point home with Bolivia. And I'm sure he was involved somewhere in microcredit.

One thing that people CAN control is their birthrate. He makes the point several times that as soon as a country's prosperity starts to rise, its birthrate plummets.
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-23-2005, 11:09 PM   #10
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

Looks like a good read from your report, Nords, and the amazon.com reviews. I've added it to my reading list. I checked my local library - 7 copies all checked out right now, with 3 more requests in place. Must be a really popular book!

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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-24-2005, 06:11 AM   #11
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

I dunno Nords. I'd prefer a lousy crotch novel over a well written, unbiased economic review any old ER day of the week.
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty
Old 10-24-2005, 10:20 AM   #12
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Re: Book report: The End of Poverty

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I dunno Nords. I'd prefer a lousy crotch novel over a well written, unbiased economic review any old ER day of the week.
Yeah, but I don't write book reports on those. Although maybe in the right magazine that would pay better? Naaaah, that kind of audience doesn't subscribe to those magazines for the articles.

All the "important" library books that I'd reserved came in at the same time. For some reason all the novels have a much longer waiting list. But I did finally find a library copy of that classic martial-arts flick "Shaolin Soccer". Write your own review!
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