The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time

New York: Penguin Press. 2005. Hardcover. 396 pp. ISBN: 1-59420-045-9.

Reviewed by Lane Vanderslice
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This book is an interesting and worthwhile discussion of how to help the world’s poorest people. It combines an intellectual history of Sachs and how he came to understand key development factors, an introduction to economic development issues, an explanation of why the poorest people and countries need assistance from developing countries, and a call for action for those of us living in developing countries to do more.

Sachs has had an outstanding professional career as an economist, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachswhich he describes in the book, as well as the lessons he learned from his experiences in Bolivia, Poland, Russia, and Africa (not till 1995), and as a key person in various UN initiatives, including the Millennium Development Goals. Sachs has not been content with just an academic understanding of the issues but has worked to try to change policies and the minds of political leaders in order to improve the lives of poor people (sometimes with his ‘sidekick’ Bono, of U2 fame).

Sachs’ basic argument is:

  • there are substantial barriers for the poorest people to overcome in health (crippling diseases such as HIV and malaria), agriculture (unproductive land with no money to buy fertilizer or other improvements) and a very low level of education.
  • The developed countries should help, but they are not willing to ante up the money and instead blame the developing countries for their plight.

A worthwhile, and certainly enjoyable, part of the book is Sachs’ willingness to criticize others, especially international development agencies and developed countries and their leaders, for what he considers as their development mistakes. Chapter 14, “Myths and Magic Bullets,” is a worthwhile critique of theories of underdevelopment put forward by experts in developing countries, but critical comments about polices and the people responsible for them are abundant elsewhere too. This is not to say that that Sachs is necessarily correct in everything he says. There certainly are many issues raised in the book that are worthy of further discussion, including for example, his belief the ability of governments to make effective use of substantially increased aid, as well as his conception of what needs to be fixed in developing countries.

A final virtue of the book is that Sachs is angry about the current state of affairs–a minimal world response to a vast number of desperately poor people. He has written well-reasoned book saying why this should be changed. This is by no means a perfect book, but it is a valuable one.

Lane Vanderslice is Editor of Hunger Notes.