Saturday, April 23, 2005

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Regarding The End of Poverty

Loyal readers of may recall that I blogged about Jeffrey Sachs and his book The End of Poverty last month. Well, I should confess that one reason for my interest in the book was because I was reviewing it for the New York Times Book Review.

The review is now available online. Go check it out.

[No excerpt?--ed. Not with this review. Besides, I'm busy prepping for the inevitable reply from Professor Sachs. What makes you think there will be a reply?--ed. Well, let's see:

1) Whenever I review a book by a Columbia economics professor, there seems to be a subsequent exchange of words;

2) Sachs hasn't taken too kindly to other reviews of this book.]

posted by Dan on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM


Is the permalink for this post busted?

But anyway, fair enough review. It'll be particularly interesting if future iterations of this debate get into the specific issue of governance, which seems to have emerged as a key point of dispute between Sachs and his Bretton-Woods critics. "Governance" has become one of those things whose importance is hard to deny (although Sachs does his best) and yet risks becoming the latest development economics fad.

posted by: P O'Neill on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Uh-oh. There's gonna be a horse's head in your bed, methinks.

Good review. I agree that even if he's wrong, it's worth a shot.

posted by: praktike on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

I guess the trick is to "properly allocate that money". Otherwise, the $195b becomes an addictive handout for economies not stimulated into being self-reliant. Too many countries are all too willing to accept this handout and still deal in wasteful activities such as wars, drugs, and oppression. Education remains the single most important gift; if people in these countries can be educated enough to innovate on their own, then they can start a spark that can transform their region. Otherwise, the next generation cannot stand on the shoulders of its parents and essentially starting over in pursuit if another $195b.

posted by: Ernie Oporto on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Dan, quick question. You write:

"... these [out-of-wedlock] sexual practices [in countries like Uganda] make quick-fix solutions -- like promoting condom use -- much less effective."

Not knowing anything on this subject, I just have a question: Wouldn't a country have less effective HIV prevention with condoms if it has more monogamous sex? Since there's more out-of-wedlock sex in Uganda, according to the article you cite, wouldn't there be a higher likelihood of transmission of HIV in that country than in a country with more monogamous sexual practices, due to the less likelihood of having sex with someone who carries HIV?

posted by: J. Puckett on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Why, when reviewing books about such important subjects, do you waste so many words highlighting such unimportant squabbles (like Sachs having a big head or Bhagwati talking about the turtles)? these books were published popularly, not by a university press. Half of your blog is about baseball and other such stupidity, they could argue.

I read the Sachs book, and I think your review was generally weak (I agree it was two books though, which was annoying). I will agree that your point on Rostow is strong. But you ignore his discussion of malaria and geography, you glaze over his argument on corruption, and you never clearly say whether you buy the "poverty trap" argument (to name a few things).

You know, BBC did a show called "the dollar-a-day dress" that I think explains many of the complexities of world poverty very well.

Anyway, I am not even sure whether I liked the Sachs book or not, but I wish you would have used the chance to actually discuss more of the issues. It would have been nice had you given those like myself a serious criticism of the arguments in the book so that we could better understand them ourselves. It just seemed to me like you were bickering with him, only to say that we should try his plan!?!?!?!?

posted by: not an economist on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Not having read the book, I'm a little hesitant to comment but ... It sounds almost as if Sachs is saying, "There is a simple, relatively cheap way of making sure that no one ever becomes overweight. Simply make sure that you do not take in more calories than you use." Well, yes, but that slides by most of the hard questions, "In a real world of imperfect people, how do you do that?"

Any plan like Sachs' runs into the Bauer critique. The amount of money that would be spent by people in rich nations is relatively small. To that extent, the plan is "worth a shot." But plans like this can have bad consequences in the real world of the recipient countries. To the extent that the money goes through local governments, it politicizes life and makes controlling the government, not creating wealth in business, a lucrative career choice. It can turn out like the "oil curse" in Venequela or Iraq.

posted by: Roger Sweeny on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Well, we're already doing what Sachs is advocating in China, with the aid being administered via an NGO called WalMart, and the results are encouraging, at least by Sachs' criteria.

By all means, let's extend that effort to the rest of the world. = )

posted by: Ged of Earthsea on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Maybe a review of George Ayittey's work would be in order before the check is written and sent.

posted by: Ken Kauke on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

One of the problems with Sachs's hypothesis is the enormity of the over-generalization. An enormous proportion of the poorest of the poor live in just two countries: China and India, countries which are no longer poor but have entered the middle class of nations. Not only are they capable of handling their own problems, they should be contributing to the solutions in their own regions.

Ged of Earthsea is on the right track: the most important thing that the developed nations can do to alleviate desperate poverty in the underdeveloped world is to eliminate agricultural subsidies for their own farmers. The second most important thing is to trade more with these nations.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone thinks that a fund of the sort that Sachs envisions won't be administered politically rather than by greatest need, I want to know what planet you're from and can I go there?

posted by: Dave Schuler on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Those of you who are saying that aid is political are totally missing the point. Sachs never denies this, he just doesn't make a big issue of it. In fact, one of the core points in his book is that it is very self-serving for rich countries to use arguments like this (especially the corruption argument) to restrict aid to poor countries, but the opposite is almost never advocated (or tried), to actually fund some of the already written development projects that are locally developed and sitting on the desks in places like Ethopia and see if they actually work. He also argues that there are many ways to audit the use of the money to make sure it is being used well (if not perfectly). And, let's not forget, how political budgets in rich countries are, and that does not stop development (even if it might not be perfectly efficient). And, especially since the rich are so rich and the poor are so poor, it would be very, very easy to make a go at it.

And, to the person above who talks about China and India, Sachs makes the exact point you make, that is why 50% of his book is about Africa. In fact, he even has two chapters, one on China and one on India, arguing that they are now both on the right track and should be seen as examples. But, he focuses on Africa because the poor in Africa are generally so much more poor and sick, and have almost no government or outside institutions to help them develop.

posted by: not an economist on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

Dan, I can't believe your credit line in the NYT doesn't mention the blog.

posted by: JEB on 04.23.05 at 04:05 PM [permalink]

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