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How Can We Stop World Poverty?

When I was growing up and I didn’t want to eat my dinner, my mother would sit down across the table and say, “Please eat your dinner. Think about the starving children in Africa,” and immediately black and white photos of wide-eyed quashiokor babies would take over my thoughts, and I would attempt another forkful or two and indeed wonder why my mother didn’t air-evacuate my plate of leftovers to someone in need?

The next way attention to world poverty surfaced in my childhood with regularity was at school during Halloween when we were given flat cardboard orange and black UNICEF boxes to assemble, take home and cart around with our goody bags while trick-er-treating in costume around the neighborhood. It always seemed like a small concession to do for others, when you had that huge loot bag to pour over at the end of the night on the living room carpet. And Mrs. Bloomfield, my grade 3 teacher, was so pleased when her whole class remembered to bring our donations in, and the class won the school’s recognition for total classroom participation.

The compelling thing about Africa and the issue of world poverty in all this time, is how despondant Western society seems to have become about a possibility for change, and to see it relegated to the category of “lost causes.” In fact with the terrible rates of HIV and Aids in Africa, continued deaths from treatable diseases like malaria, and the horrific genocide in Darfur and Rawanda, that despondancy has been replaced by a sense of helpless horror.

Nelson Mandela and the end of Aparteid is a tremendously optimistic point in history. A visionary. A person of intense passion and compassion. His life example draws together people of disparate lives. This is what is needed.

In the world economic forum, that person could very well be Jeffery Sachs. Hailed by “Time” magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, Jeffery has advised a broad range of world leaders and international institutions on the challenges of hyperinflation, disease, post-communist transitions and extreme poverty. His book topped the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks and was voted one of the most important books to read in 2005. The forward is written by U2 rockstar Bono, himself a tireless advocate for Africa.

“End of Poverty” is not another stuffy book filled with economic theory and formulas. Well it does have a bit of that, but it is written in a passionate storytelling style that encapsulates Jeffery’s own life experiences as an academic economist from Harvard who escaped the confines of the classroom (and merely teaching economic theory), to the real-life experiences of field work, traveling to countries around the world and seeing their economies in action. He is witnessing and influencing real political policy, the impact of world monetary flow through existing organizations and institutions, and other world-wide forces – both natural and man made. He explains why in the last two hundred years wealth has diverged across the planet and how the poorest natons have so far been unable to improve their lot. He explains how to arrive at an in-depth diagnosis of a country’s economic challenges and the options it faces.

“The End Of Poverty” is Jeffery Sachs’ culmination of experiences: ending hyperinflation in Bolivia as an economic adviser; transforming Poland from a socialist economy to a free market economy; as a witness and advisor to officials of the former Soviet Union under Gorbachev and Yeltzin in the exciting years of change at the end of the Cold War, and the remarkable ongoing economic transformations of India and China, with their own unique challenges of population, geography and politics are dramatic successes and reason for hope.

Each few chapters, he goes through another region’s challenges, unique history and corresponding developments — with successes and areas of continued challenge clearly established in his methodical point form. If I were to meet Jeffery Sachs and ask him a question, I am quite sure he would respond thus, “Well that is a good question and here are 5 reasons where I think we can help.” In fact he borrows his pediatric physician-wife’s professional tool set in his approach to economics. Just as she would use the scientific method of deduction to treat a sick child in the emergency by gathering the history, looking at all the signs and symptoms, doing a thorough physical assessement, ordering all the necessary tests and then making a diagnosis based on all this information and beginning from the most common system suspect and statistical epidemiologic likelihood, and working her way down to the unlikely and the obscure diagnosis — so too, does Jeffery recommend a holistic approach to the Dx and Rx of world economies.

The other great thing about “The End of Poverty” is Jeffery’s infectious optimism in our capability to effect change in povertry stricken areas around the world, in our lifetime. I think everyone would agree that when you participate in efforts like this, you like to see results. Slow incremenetal results are nice, but dramatic positive results are better. What could be better than being able to end world poverty by 2025, eradicate malaria, find a cure for HIV and AIDS, and bring stability and economic development to the world? Chronic poverty is not the inevitable lot of a majority of the human race. By Paula Shackleton, BookBuffet Editor

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