By Connor J. Wangler
In 2005, economist and author Jeffrey Sachs made a bold statement that many of his colleagues disputed at the time: extreme poverty can be eliminated globally by 2025. At the time, 25 percent of the world was considered living in extreme poverty according to the World Bank. In order to prove to his peers that what he was suggesting was possible, Sachs laid out what he thought to be the major issues facing developing countries and how to address them. It is important to note that Sachs was influential in the creation of the United Nations Development Goals. The overall problem that Sachs sees for developing nations is their inability to reach even just the “bottom rung” of the economic ladder of development. This is explained by looking at each individual nation’s context of development, each one facing a dynamic and complex set of circumstances that inhibit or allow for growth; in order to account for these differences, he promotes “clinical economies”. The main factors that Sachs points out as setbacks to positive development are: government corruption; legal and social disparities; diseases, such as AIDS and Malaria; deteriorating or non-existant infrastructure; political conflict; protectionism; and geographic barriers.
Sachs’ “clinical economies” are what he describes as the economic equivalent of going to a medical doctor; each person has a unique problem that requires a unique treatment. To show how these “clinical economies” can combat the inhibiting factors pointed out, Sachs looks at specific countries and how they are dealing with development. One of the countries that Sachs sees as not even on the bottom rung of the development ladder is Malawi. It suffers from many economic inhibiting factors: AIDS and Malaria epidemics, impoverished population, landlocked country with high transport costs, and an agriculture sector unable to support even its own population. Going against the grain with international aid donors, Malawi attempted to solve some of these problems itself. In an attempt to build a self-sustaining agriculture and food supply system, the government set up its own subsidy program in order to help farmers double their production within a year. Only after seeing the success of this program did international donor nations decide to support the efforts. The Malawi government has also partnered with private organizations to fight the AIDS and Malaria crises, one such group is Madonna’s Raising Malawi:
Next up on the first rung of the economic ladder, Sachs says, is Bangladesh. A long history of poverty and challenges to growth have left Bangladesh in a sad state; however, there is, he believes, a promise for tomorrow to be found in the growing textile and apparel industry. The jobs in these industries are often associated with dismal and dangerous working conditions, and many in the developed world protest them by calling for governments to block further development in this area. Sachs does recognize the appalling conditions of these jobs and calls for improved working situations. He, however, sees them as important opportunities for workers to gain “a foothold in the modern economy.” A woman can slowly save her money and go to school; the job can also elevate a woman’s power and social status in a country where they have long been looked down at by men. Furthermore, the industry has fueled the country’s economic growth in recent years. Combining this with micro-enterprises, increased literacy rates, and family planning services, Bangladesh has been making headways in growth.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of growth and development in a poverty-stricken country is India. The IT revolution haas led to enormous growth in the country; the e-commerce industry alone is expected to reach $70 Billion by 2020. This has led to an increase in per capita income, a decrease in population growth, and the giving way of old social barriers against girls or lower castes. The IT revolution has not been as beneficial to every other country, such as Malawi and Bangladesh. While Bangladesh has seen the growth of a few “techno-poles” and Malawi has benefited from the increased distribution of technology, the “juice” has not quite been worth the “squeeze” compared to India.
In each of these cases, Sachs recognizes different advantages and disadvantages that have placed the countries in their respective situations. He sees the need to identify growth potentials on an individual base with these factors in mind. Nina Munk, author of The Idealist, doesn’t see Sachs’ work as promising as others, however. She claims that Sachs’ own arrogance and refusal to listen to outside suggestions reduces his ability to provide real solutions to the problems he sees. Jeffrey Sachs, from any perspective, remains one of the leading voices in the poverty reduction and development debate and will cause a stir in any argument on the topic.