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5.0 out of 5 stars Novel Approach to Development Economics, 29 April 2008
This review is from: The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Lifetime (Paperback)
This book is breath-taking in scope, pulsating with captivating optimism and inspiring in its bold proposals. For Jeffrey Sachs, no mountain is too steep or too high to climb. Time and again, when this David locks horns with the Goliaths of the World Bank and the White House, he invariably emerges triumphant.

He makes it sound so amazingly easy when he recounts the systematic diagnosis, prescription and treatment that lead to the dramatic arrest of hyperinflation in Bolivia and Poland. The extended medical metaphor is neither haphazard nor purely stylistic. It reflects Sachs' recommendation of a novel approach to development economics which he sees as analogous to the challenges of a paediatrician trained to grope for answers through "differential diagnosis". Couldn't this be of interest to a country like Zimbabwe today running a four digit inflation? He then goes on to make a fascinating and onstructive overview of the reversal of economic fortunes in China and India in the 80's and 90's.

As the economic advisor to the Jubilee 2000 Campaign for the cancellation of the poorest countries' foreign debt, he provided the very powerful theoretical underpinning for the initiative. What was particularly remarkable about the movement was the way it succeeded in roping in support from across all imaginable divides: religious, ideological, political, racial, cultural and class, gaining enthusiastic ownership and invaluable sponsorship by conservative and liberal congressmen in the US, by the left and the right in Europe, including the Pope. The World Bank and the IMF were also brought on board, initially kicking and screaming sceptically, but in the end going along with fervent gusto.

Starting from a close observation of the impact of disease burden on economic development in Africa, Sachs led the very successful advocacy for US policy changes on the fight against HIV/ Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis, enlisting in the process the support of other donor countries, foundations and UN institutions and securing the support of African leaders such as President Obasanjo of Nigeria. This culminated in the setting up of the now famous and highly effective Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria in 2001. He can also claim vicarious paternity for President Bush's remarkably successful Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR).

Sachs deserves the credit for pointing out to the US government that it wasn't enough to open up its market to the products from developing countries. They would be easily kept out by the much more efficient East Asian producers unless an element of preferential access was introduced. This is what led to the drawing up of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), an initiative which underscores the cynicism of EU's Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme purporting to open up duty free access to the European market for the poorest countries knowing all the while that they face such severe supply side constraints that the advantage is doomed to remain largely theoretical. Indeed their lot is likely to be made worse by the fact that in reciprocation for the EBA favour, they are required to grant tariff free access to EU products, thereby providing the last nail for the coffin of their nascent industries which can never hope to compete with EU imports.

Jeffrey Sachs very usefully attempts to connect his suggestions on initiatives for sustainable development to the UN's Millennium Development Goals and compellingly repeats: "This time can be different!" He has the strength of conviction and the courage to propose and launch pilot village-level actions in different parts of the world to show that what he advocates is not mere rhetoric but can actually be put to practice.

A significant weakness in his model is over-reliance on external aid. He expends considerable effort to show that many developed countries, chief among them the US, have only given lip-service to the goal of meeting the UN's Official Development Assistance target set at 0.7% of GDP. Yet he somehow hopes they can soon be made to see the light and agree to shoulder their part of the burden, without showing how to arrive at that.
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