End of Poverty?

If you haven’t already read Jeff Sachs’ The End of Poverty, I’d highly recommend it. Here’s a few thoughts to add to what many others have already said about it:

  • The discussion of geography and history upfront is splendid. Lots of lovely diversions, such as the discussion of the importance of Newton’s Principia Mathematica in spurring the industrial revolution, and the Haber-Bosch process for creating fertiliser in spurring C20th agriculture.
  • Not surprisingly to anyone who’s heard him talk about it in person, Sachs spends a paragraph in his Russia section criticising Harvard economist Andrei Schleifer (p.144). In an odd gesture, Schleifer is omitted from the index.
  • To read David Brooks’ recent critique, you might think that Sachs didn’t mention corruption and diversion of aid. But of course, large chunks are devoted to rebutting precisely this criticism, making me wonder whether Brooks actually read End of Poverty before writing about it.
  • For a free trader like me, I’ve always regarded Sachs as being one of the great avocates of cutting tariffs (his work with Andrew Warner is some of the seminal studies showing that trade helps the poor). So it’s sobering to see him conclude his trade section with the words "In short, liberalise trade in agriculture, but do not expect it to be a panacea. The benefits will accrue overwhelmingly to the large food exporters: the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Australia." (p.282)

The critique of Sachs that I take most seriously are recent comments by William Easterley, author of The Elusive Quest for Growth (another splendid book on development). On the specifics, there’s a lot of common ground in the two books – increase aid, lower trade barriers, but also improve institutions and tackle corruption. So this feels to me very much like a glass half-full/half-empty debate. Indeed, Sachs probably knows that it takes some over-optimism to get results. But after all the to-ing and fro-ing, it must surely be right that aid dollars sent from the rich world to Africa increase the overall well-being of the world.

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