The End of Poverty

Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs is more than a trumpet against poverty. He’s recognized as astute and able and informed:

The reason people die of extreme poverty is that they have nothing. They don’t need a lot to stay alive, and they don’t even need a lot to start the process of economic development. It would not require heroism on our part in order to help save those lives and help to promote economic development where it is not occurring now on the planet. It would just take having our eyes opened. It would take some attention. It would take a breakthrough in our country from doing nothing to doing something, because we really are, essentially, doing nothing right now. That is the sad, hard fact.

The President has spoken a thousand times about freedom without speaking once about poverty. That is what we have to change if we are going to address this challenge. It can be changed. Americans will want to change it. Americans don’t know what we aren’t doing and don’t know what we could be doing. It is not that there is evil or uncaring in the land; it is a lack of understanding of the basic realities.

Economic Possibilities for Our Time

“Maybe it is sad to say that even after twenty years, every day is still shocking for me — sometimes shocking in the enormity of the crisis, sometimes shocking in the simplicity of the solutions.”

The good news is that economic development is a reality. It works.

Most of the world has escaped from extreme poverty. When I talk about extreme poverty, I am talking about poverty that is so severe that basic needs cannot be fulfilled.

What are basic needs? Adequate daily nutritional intake, safe drinking water, basic sanitation, a livelihood that can support survival, that can give a chance for a child to make his or her way through school, access to essential health services in a health emergency, a disease spell. When those conditions are not met, that is extreme poverty.

There are about a billion people in the world that don’t have their basic needs met, that live in chronic under-nutrition without reliable access to any kind of health care. I am not talking about health insurance and regular preventive care and so forth; I am talking about access to a doctor in the middle of an emergency of malaria, where a $1.00 dose would cure the person, but where 2 million or 3 million people will die because they don’t have access to the pill or to the IV line.

About 1 billion people are in that condition, but about 5 billion people have escaped from it — about five-sixths of the planet, more accurately. Two hundred years ago, everybody was in extreme poverty, aside from the few kings and queens and dukes and princes that we read of in the books and plays and histories. Everybody was in extreme poverty. Life was short. Public health didn’t exist. Medicine was putting leeches on patients. Under-nutrition was chronic. Famines were regular. That was true in Europe, as well as anywhere else in the world.