Author Jeffrey Sachs was online Tuesday, March 15, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss his book, "The End of Poverty," an outline of his plan to end global "extreme poverty." The book will be reviewed in Sunday's Washington Post Book World.
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A transcript follows.
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Do you believe the current style of world economics (U.S., Europe, Japan, etc.), whatever we call it (democratic, capitalistic, free-trade ...) is honestly the proper medium within which to end, or at least reduce, world poverty?
Thank you for taking my question.
Jeffrey Sachs: The current "style" of world economy can do it. The world economy has supported the massive lift off of China and India, not to mention many smaller (mostly Asian) economies in the past 20 years. The countries stuck in poverty are generally stuck there because they face special vulnerabilities -- to disease, isolation (e.g. mountain economies), lack of irrigation, etc. The key is to invest enough to overcome those specific vulnerabilities, and thereby "connect" the still-impoverished economies to global growth.
Though there has been progress on governance in Africa, capital flight alone -- at $40 bil per year -- is more than double current ODA. If conditions aren't yet ripe for Africa's own resources to be used for development, how will $25 billion per year in aid for Africa turn things around, and how can we maintain political support for aid when/if major failures occur?
Jeffrey Sachs: Capital flight is a symptom of the lack of adequate market returns. But the lack of market returns is a result of lack of infrastructure, an impoverished consumer base, a disease-ridden society, lack of needed skills, etc. With investments in people (health, education, nutrition), infrastructure (power, water and sanitation, roads, irrigation, etc.), and the environment (soils, land, trees), the rates of return on PRIVATE investment will rise as well, and this will slow or reverse capital flight. By the way, nobody really knows how big that capital flight actually is. Be skeptical of any specific number!
What do you think will be the biggest political obstacle to hurdle in order to achieve the MGDs?
Jeffrey Sachs: The biggest specific obstacle is actually the lack of concern of the US Government and some other high-income countries. With sufficient help from the high-income donor countries, the crippling burdens of chronic hunger, insufficient food output, disease pandemics, lack of infrastructure, and environmental degradation can be solved . . . at least in dozens of impoverished but relatively well governed countries.
I assigned my college students the article about your book in the latest Time magazine. They were all shocked and dismayed to learn about how little the United States contributes to alleviating poverty as well as how little it will tak to solve this problem. How do we make the public aware of our actual contribution and the need to do more?
Jeffrey Sachs: Thank you for that concern. Please write to your Senators and Congressmen, that it is unacceptable for the US to promise to "make concrete efforts" to reach 0.7 percent of our GNP in official development assistance, but then to be at only 0.15 percent of GNP. In fact, we are spending $500 billion per year on the military, and only $16 billion or so on development! It's very lopsided, and therefore very dangerous for our country and for the world.
Chevy Chase, Md.:
What do you think are the most important steps that can be taken to diminish the extent of exploitation of child labor and to ensure that all children have educational opportunities?
Jeffrey Sachs: The key, I believe, is to make it possible for impoverished families to keep their children in school. If safe drinking water is available nearby the home (so that young children are not asked to spend hours each day collecting the water), if the school is nearby the home (so that it is safe for young girls and boys to walk to and from school), if the school provide a real education (without 80 - 100 children in a "class"), if the school provides a hot mid-day meal, if the school does not charge user fees . . . then impoverished families will WANT to send their children to school. This has been demonstrated time and again. The problem is that poor countries are too poor to meet all of those conditions, UNLESS we in the rich countries give them more help (as we've promised, but failed, to do).
Do you think your prescriptions for ending extreme poverty will encounter resistance in developing world capitals because you are a westerner and there are lingering suspicions that all westerners have imperialist motives?
Jeffrey Sachs: I have found a wonderful reception for my positions from the villages of Africa (and I was in a village in Senegal just yesterday, and in villages in Ethiopia and Kenya last week), to the governments in Africa, and the civil society organizations. I believe that there is a basic consensus on what needs to be done. Africa needs MORE HELP to do these things! Notably, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Africa Commission has just said the same thing last week.
Wheeling, W. Va.:
What kinds of professionals (or what kinds of human talents and skills) are most needed in efforts against poverty? i.e. Which ones are crucial and/or which ones are needed in the greatest number?
Jeffrey Sachs: Many, many skills are needed: doctors, engineers, agronomists, teachers, accountants, even economists! There is a need for every kind of skill!
What type of leadership would it take for wealthy democracies to commit themselves to eradicating poverty? How vital is American support to Tony Blair's goal of using the EU presidency to make a lasting difference in Africa? Can/will the Europeans do it without us?
Jeffrey Sachs: The European can't quite do it without the U.S. Our studies have shown that the U.S. is MORE THAN HALF of the missing dollars needed to end extreme poverty. Sadly, the U.S. contributes the smallest share of national income in official development aid, but mainly because the public does not know this or believe it. Americans naturally believe that we are being generous. Our leaders should explain the truth to the American people about the levels of our aid compared with our incomes!
Many poorer countries are in their current situation partly due to a lack of economic resources. For example, if a country is landlocked in the middle of a desert, it lacks some very important economic advantages that rich countries tend to have. If rich countries contribute enough resources to pull poorer countries out of poverty, how will the poorer countries continue to sustain themselves without additional aid -- given their economic disadvantage.
Jeffrey Sachs: Once a landlocked country has a good road to a working port (even a port in the neighboring country), it can begin to enjoy trade and economic growth. Once an arid country has irrigation, it can begin to produce crops with high productivity. Once a malaria region has malaria control (bednets and proper medicines), the population can be healthier. In essence, the first step is to identify the "lack of economic resources." The second step is to identify the kinds of investments that can overcome those liabilities, and thereby enable the country to begin to enjoy the more normal conditions of economic growth.
I hear rants and raves from people who can't believe "my tax dollars are going to other countries" when they ... fight for insurance here, our schools are inadequate, etc. I've tried to appeal to their sense of humanity but that hasn't been too effective. How can I make the connection between prosperity and health in Africa relate to their personal needs here? -- or maybe I should just drop them as friends.
Jeffrey Sachs: Don't drop them as friends! Americans are generous. Just try to encourage them to understand how even a small contribution from us (just 70 cents on each 100 dollars of US GNP) could SAVE MILLIONS OF DYING CHILDREN every year. And tell them that if those children are saved, and saved each year, the population growth in the poor countries will actually SLOW, not rise! That's because impoverished parents will start to choose to have many fewer children knowing with confidence that their children will survive. And then finally tell them what they will not at first believe: that the US Government is spending less than 15 cents of every hundred dollars of our national income to help the poorest of the poor in the world! Your friends probably think we are spending many times that amount. Alas, we are spending thirty times more on the military than for help for the poorest of the poor. Our approach to the world is very, very imbalanced.
As a former development economist and current IT contractor, I've always wondered how much more technology in development could achieve. I have some ideas, what are yours?
Jeffrey Sachs: Technology is critical. The key is technology directed towards the needs of the poor: bednets to fight malaria, antiretroviral medicines to treat aids, drip irrigation in arid environment, leguminous trees to replenish soil nitrogen (and hence growth more crops), improved rural off-grid electricity (e.g. solar in some contexts).
You use Malawi as an example in your book of extreme poverty, but the government spent $100 million dollars over 20 years to build a presidential palace. How can the U.S. be certain that donations would not be used in similar wasteful manners?
Jeffrey Sachs: The key is that aid should be directed to specific investments. The donors and government should identify specific needs (clinics, schools, bed nets, fertilizers, nurses, etc.), and then set a timetable, a budget, and performance/monitoring/auditing indicators. This should be run like a properly managed construction project. It can be done. We just need a business-like, rigorous approach.
What can individuals do to encourage their government to contribute to the 'most' effective means of achieving the MDGs, i.e., why are governments giving millions to GFTAM, which is not yet disbursing much in the way of anti-HIV/AIDS drugs, rather than organizations that are on the ground, currently fighting the ravages of HIV/AIDS in Africa?
Jeffrey Sachs: Actually the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM) is our best chance for LARGE-SCALE mobilization of commodities and services to fight the three diseases. Many of the "growing pains" of the GFATM are now past, and the projects (including antiretroviral medicines) are beginning to scale up quite rapidly.
The next key is for Canada to follow through on the commitment to provide 0.7 percent of GNP in development assistance. Canada "invented" that concept in the Lester Pearson Commission in 1969. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1970. Canada and the US have never lived up to this commitment (which was reiterated again by Cananda, the U.S., and other countries in 2002).
Countless aid programs in Africa have gone to nothing thanks to rampant corruption. Why should the U.S., or anyone, throw good money after bad? We can't govern their countries for them. Are poor countries responsible for solving any of their own problems? Or are stingy Western countries responsible for everything?
Jeffrey Sachs: You would be amazed at HOW LOW the actual aid to Africa has been for years and years, even as African children die by the millions with nobody seeming to care. The idea of large US aid to Africa is a myth, as I explain in this month's Foreign Affairs. Most of the small amount of U.S. aid to Africa (only around 3 or 4 cents per every $100 of US GNP!) goes for emergency food aid (and even half of that is for transport costs!), consultants services of US consultants, and bookkeeping reductions of unpayable debts. Very little goes for actual investments in schools, clinics, medicines, bed nets, etc. Have a close look at the FY06 US budget (available on line, of course). You'll see that the U.S. development assistance to Africa, including all kinds of accounts is around $3-4 billion this year, which is around $4 per person in sub-Saharan Africa, and just 4 cents on the $100 of US GNP.
Your idea assumes that donor countries will send money with no regard to returns on the money and the recipient nations will be honest and give it to the neediest. Both assumptions, unfortunately, have been proven wrong. A carrot has to be dangled for the donor countries to give more and for the recipient county to use it wisely. U.N. has not been very successful. Any other alternative?
Jeffrey Sachs: The idea is that countries should put forward specific investment plans, with numerical targets, and the donors should help fund those programs in a rigorous business plan. Let's count what's promised: schools, clinics, medicines, bed nets, fertilizers, etc. Let's monitor what's actually delivered. Let's audit the process. The money will go for specific investment projects, and in some cases won't even be money at all. Instead, the donors could simply deliver the needed bed nets, medicines, etc.
I worked on Capital Markets in Moscow from 1995 to
2000. It seems to me Putin is a statist and not market
oriented. Other revisionists say the economic "shock and
awe" of the 90s made a mess of the Russian Economy.
What is your current view of the Russian economy and its
Jeffrey Sachs: The Russian reform process was a debacle, as I explain in my book. I stayed for two years (1992 and 1993), but then got fed up with both the "West," which was not helping Russia properly, and Russia, which was not reforming properly. After 1993, especially 1995 and 1996, the corruption really exploded. I watched sadly from the sidelines. Alas, the US Administration did little try to slow the corruption. It basically just looked away. It was the corruption in the mid-1990s, in the "oil for shares" deals, that created many of the "oligarchs" who are at the center of controversy today.
I just today read your article in Time magazine. What can just one middle class couple do to help at least one person in the Sauri villages of Kenya? Even if it's just food for a few days, or clothing, or medicine, or the antimalarial bed nets for a few days --or the $70 per person that was mentioned in the magazine?
Jeffrey Sachs: For people interested in helping, through volunteer work, writing to your Congressman or Senator, or a personal donation (for example of bed nets), please see the website www.earth.columbia.edu/endofpoverty for some suggestions.
New York, N.Y.:
You say that we should direct aid to particular investments, but developing governments have routinely rejected such targeted investments as too invasive, and even as neo-colonial infringements on their sovereignty. How would you convince developing governments to accept such targeted loans? Would there be consequences if governments refused them?
Jeffrey Sachs: Recipients have sometimes rejected investments that are decided solely by the DONOR countries. I am advocating that the recipient countries be encouraged to present THEIR investment plans. Of course they must make sense, be based on good science, and be monitorable and subject to audit. Mainly donors don't encourage such honest thinking and assessments of real needs. The donor countries, including the U.S., too often impose their own ideas, and even more importantly, don't offer anything like a realistic scale of assistance.
How does your proposal address the recurrent costs for these investments? How will schools and clinics be maintained, supplies replenished, irrigation networks maintained, etc?
Jeffrey Sachs: In the proposals of the UN Millennium Project (www.unmillenniumproject.org) and in my book The End of Poverty (www.earth.columbia.edu/endofpoverty), the donors would help to cover the recurrent costs in the poorest countries, probably for more than a decade, until those countries are at a level in which they can cover those costs by themselves. Fortunately, middle-income countries, e.g. China, Brazil, etc., can cover those costs out of their own resources, or at least very largely so. The need for donor help with recurrent costs is for the poorest countries.
Amartya Sen has observed that no democratic country has experienced a famine. How important is democratic governance to overcoming the poverty trap?
Jeffrey Sachs: Alas, Professor Sen -- a very great economist -- was probably too optimistic in assuming that famine would afflict only non-democratic countries. He meant that food scarcity is not the major cause of famine. The major cause, in his view, is the unresponsiveness of oppressive governments in giving emergency aid.
Alas, food scarcity is now taking a terrible toll in much of Africa, particularly in drought-ridden and AIDS-ridden regions. Several democracies are also subject to famine or at least very severe chronic hunger (e.g. Malawi, Ethiopia, etc.), because of the combinations of disasterous climate shocks, disease, and other environmental vulnerability (e.g. soil nutrient depletion). Yes, those democracies do respond with aid for the stricken, as Prof. Sen predicted, but the overall food scarcity is claiming vast numbers of lives, even in democracies.
Those countries need our URGENT HELP to grow more food (with water harvesting, soil nutrient replenishment, improved seeds, and rural infrastructure). The costs in human and economic terms will be much lower if we invest in food production in those countries rather than relying mainly or solely on emergency food aid after famine has hit!
Will Africa, in your opinion, ever become "developed," and what steps need to be taken to attain this?
Jeffrey Sachs: Yes, Africa will become developed. It could begin to happen in the coming years, IF THE US and other rich countries provide greater help to Africa to invest in the basic building blocks of economic growth: health care, education, roads, power, irrigation, safe drinking water and sanitation, ports, and telecomms. With the foundation of investments in basic needs, Africa would be "connected" to the world economy, and like other regions of the world, would begin to benefit from global economic growth.
This has been described in three places recently: my book (the End of Poverty, www.earth.columbia.edu/endofpoverty), the UN Millennium Project (www.unmillenniumproject.org), and the Africa Commission of the United Kingdom (the "Blair Commission").
In response to your statement about the necessity of investing in specific projects (clinics, etc.), what do you think about the World Bank's ongoing shift to budgetary support?
Jeffrey Sachs: Budgetary support should not be a "blank check" for the budget, but should be on the basis of a clear investment plan IN THE BUDGET. IN other words, the recipient country should link its investment plan to the national budget (of course), and the donors should support that investment plan (with all of the protections of monitoring, evaluation, audits, etc.)
New York, N.Y.:
Look forward to reading your book and contratulations on your great efforts toward ending global poverty.
As you have well argued, this is a broad and very complex issue that demands policy action across many fronts. From your perspective, however, to what extent is the "good governance" issue a hindrance to solving the problem compared to the broader issue of extending financial resources? Is the linkage being exaggerated to serve a conservative agenda, and if not, how much can the West influence political reform in these countries?
Jeffrey Sachs: Sub-Saharan Africa has 49 countries. Many are well governed, and many are miserably governed. Yet we don't give adequate help even for the well-governed countries. Governance matters, but it has become an excuse for inaction. There are plenty of well-governed, yet impoverished countries that we should be doing much more to help!
What is the closest we, as a global civilization, could conceivably get to Utopia in your mind? What is your utopia like? Does humanity unite under a single goal, like progress in science and the arts? Or is it simply to enable survival to all or a certain standard of living?
Jeffrey Sachs: I'm not sure about Utopia, but I do believe that we could end the great suffering from extreme poverty within our generation (by 2025), and I do believe that we can combine economic development and environmental sustainability! These are not utopian. Indeed, they are vital for global security and wellbeing.
In response to your statement about the level of U.S. ODA, there are some who argue that U.S. contribution is dramatically understated in that it does not reflect other types of assistance. Some even would count transfers as contributing to development. How do you respond?
Jeffrey Sachs: Some people believe that if PRIVATE aid is counted, the US gives a lot as a share of GNP. This is NOT SO (as described in detail in my article in Foreign Affairs this month). This is a myth that the US does its share. We'd like it to be so, but it isn't. President Bush should explain the truth to the American people.
Why is it that the U.S. only gets credit for the aid that comes from the government? Are their any official statistics that take into account private giving, remittance, volunteer, and non-profit work? Why is it that people in development work only focus on government aid?
Jeffrey Sachs: Private giving is around $5 - $7 billion per year, or around 0.05 percent of our $12 trillion GNP. Public giving is around 0.15 percent of our GNP. Thus, public plus private giving is around 0.2 percent of GNP, among the very lowest of all donor countries. (The US official aid ratio, 0.15, is the VERY lowest of all donor countries).
I am a student at Columbia, and I have continually wanted to get involved in a project with the Earth Institute. How can young people become involved in the effort to end poverty in a meaningful way? It seems like only professionals and government officials have enough experience to make a contribution.
Jeffrey Sachs: Students have a huge role to play. Please see "how you can help" at the website www.earth.columbia.edu/endofpoverty, and also student programs at the Earth Institute, at www.earth.columbia.edu.
While a form of capitalism may be the best economic system that we have yet to come up with, it inherently has the consequences of making some groups rich and some groups poor. How can world poverty be eradicated -- with any amount of aid and support to poor countries -- with this unfortunate side effect of capitalism?
Jeffrey Sachs: Capitalism doesn't actually make the poor poor (as I argue in my book), but capitalism is perfectly capable of IGNORING the plight of the poor. There is a difference. Market economies, by themselves, do not tend to the needs of the impoverished sick and dying people. That's where collective efforts of governments and civil society (e.g. charitable organizations) come in. If the US were to honor its commitment to give just 0.7 percent of GNP (70 cents on each $100 of GNP), extreme poverty could be eliminated, in our "capitalist" global economy.
I was recently in a Sahelian country and realized that one of the primary causes for dysfunction in the delivery of basic services is that the informal rules of government work far out-trump the formal ones, despite years of investment in training and equipment. What new ideas do you have to increase "institutional capacity?"
Jeffrey Sachs: The major problems in the Sahel are "biophysical," especially a shortage of water. To remedy that, we need effective governments. But impoverished governments are not effective, because they are too poor to provide public needs and to manage with proper information systems, etc. This seems like a vicious circle, a "Catch 22." To break the vicious circle, direct donor help for practical investments (e.g. in drip irrigation and drough-resistant crops, etc.) and donor-supported investments in good governance (e.g. information systems, cellphones, proper public management capacity), can play a huge role. Ethiopia is an example of a Sahelian country capable of massive progress if the help is forthcoming.
How has your contact with Bono helped with the causes of world hunger? Is he truely opening doors for these causes?
Jeffrey Sachs: Bono is playing a huge role in bringing together various worlds -- of politics, the arts, Africa and the U.S. -- to help us see that we are all in this together. He just got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He will also get into the Economic Development Hall of Fame.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. A question: Given that Bill Gates's philanthropy alone has helped tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of impoverished children, in poor countries, would it be better to tell young people who want to help alleviate global poverty to strive to be charity-minded business people rather than, say, a nonprofit leader?
Jeffrey Sachs: There are many paths to personal fulfillment in this regard: business, academia, government. I think the key is to keep one's heart, and head, in the right place: to understand that we are all interconnected, dependent on each other, and that our own lives are devalued and diminished and threatened, if we allow others to die just because they are poor. We are tragically diminishing the value of human life (and risking our own, and our children's as a result) by our complacency in the face of such suffering!
In the late 1990s, in the northern region of Ghana there was a UNESCO project that assisted the local people of that region in preserving their sacred groves which habored numerous plant species, some of which were not yet discovered at that time. How do researchers tap into these "sacred" resources for medicinal research without destroying the cultural beliefs of the towns' people?
Jeffrey Sachs: Just as one example of what you say. The most important new anti-malaria drug, Artemisinin, is a scientifically derived extract from a traditional Chinese herbal medicine for fever. Traditional knowledge, combined with science, can lead to marvelous results.
Santa Fe, N.M.:
What has happened to the grandmother with all of
her grandchildren in Africa -- you showed her
picture during your talk for the Santa Fe Institute?
Jeffrey Sachs: I have not been back to that village. But I've since visited SO MANY like that one, including villages in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Senegal in the past couple of weeks. The suffering is enormous. But even larger is our capacity to help, if we choose to do so!