Philanthropy and Poverty: Are the Rich Giving Enough?

Jeffrey Sachs is one of the most outspoken and straightforward critics of humanitarian aid – and for good reason. In The End of Poverty, Sachs speaks often about how the rich, both countries and individuals, could do more to help aid in poverty-stricken lands. He speaks of taxing the ultra rich, the less than 1% of people worldwide, who could donate but a fraction of their income to make a huge difference. The people that have this wealth, if they so desired, could make an enormous change in the lives of impoverished people if even only a small percentage of their income went towards an adequate cause. He also speaks of countries as a whole, showing that if they donated less than 1% of their total wealth yearly, they could potentially end extreme poverty.

While Sachs seems to be overly negative in his outlook, the facts show that he is partially correct. In an article he wrote for The Huffington Post, aggressively titled “World to Poor: Drop Dead“, Sachs brings up the fact that the world was unable to come up with $5 billion dollars for a fund to help eradicate and treat Malaria, Tuberculosis, and AIDS. The $5 billion mark he cited was the bare minimum needed for the fund to start treating these diseases with the attention they deserve. He directly calls out many 1st world countries, along with the billionaires of the world (with a combined net worth over 5.5 trillion) for not caring about the plight of these people. With outwardly extreme quotes such as “The poor will die silently, without protest. Their families will be consoled that it’s god’s will. But it isn’t. It’s the willful neglect by men..” it is easy to see that Sachs feels very irritated with the current state of aid.

Sachs acknowledges the success of the MDGs and other movements to end poverty but he feels as though the selfishness of the world’s richest is something that is disgraceful to humanity as a whole. He states that while he doesn’t think poverty as a whole can be instantly eradicated, the number of extreme poor in the world has declined to a point where an adequate donation from these better-off countries and individuals could end extreme poverty as we know it today. He gives many examples to the insignificance of the money needed to raise the $5 billion I spoke of earlier, some of which are: $1 from everyone in the rich world, 1 days worth of oil income from Saudi Arabia, 14 hours worth of Pentagon spending, 0.019 percent of the wealth of the world’s 1,426 billionaires, or 5% of Christmas bonuses on Wall Street. However, I feel that while Sachs is looking at an instant gratification of throwing billions of dollars at these impoverished lands, we must think to the future and how this effects sustainability. I think Moyo would have much to say on this topic, as it is directly opposed to what she feels would be the most helpful. If we can help others live comfortably but only for a few years or so, is it worth turning their economy and social structures upside down?

The top philanthropists of 2013

However, outside of Sachs’ extreme negativity, there have been some improvements in Sub-Saharan African countries in the past 10 years that are directly related to humanitarian aid provided by both America and other nations. For example, Kenya received $2.5 billion in aid from only the USA in 2011, which is 8.2 of its GNI for that year. Kenya is a conflict-ridden land, having active conflict in seven out of ten years between 2002 and 2012. That being said, the billions in aid that they receive, assuming it isn’t hoarded by a corrupt government, can only help them on their path to both conflict-free years ahead and ending extreme poverty as a whole. By Sachs’ own logic, these countries are corrupt mostly due to the fact that they are impoverished. By helping them financially, people of these wealthier nations can only be helping to both end corruption and hopefully feed and clothe those in need. While there are many sides to the debate on humanitarian aid, I feel as though we have seen improvements both through the MDGs and humanitarian aid that are promising for the future.

Below I have included a video with WellBeing Foundation’s Toyin Saraki speaking on how Africans can give aid to impoverished areas through philanthropy of their own.

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