Jeffrey Sachs discusses global poverty

By Joann Chen

Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs addressed a Rockefeller Chapel audience on Monday to discuss the challenges facing global development efforts. The talk, entitled “Ending Extreme Poverty,” was sponsored by Chicago Promise, which works under an organization called Millennium Promise that Sachs co-founded, as well as a number of University of Chicago organizations including the Human Rights Program, the Center for International Studies, and the School of Social Service Administration.

Millennium Promise is an organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty worldwide by the year 2025, and Chicago Promise is a local branch that works in partnership with a village in Kenya to alleviate poverty there.

Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, spoke of the need for solutions that alleviate extreme poverty and focused largely on the work done by Millennium Promise in sub-Saharan Africa. Sachs, showing optimism for the prospects of a fight against poverty, said that some solutions are “so simple it’s startling.”

Sachs said that the paradox of unequal wealth distribution between the developed and developing world is “resolvable and solvable,” and that “everywhere in the world people are ready to jump up and help out.”

Sachs criticized the priorities of the American government, however. In particular, he pointed out that the military spending allocated in the budget passed on Wednesday is 150 times greater than America’s total expenditures on Africa. In another criticism of American policies, he said that the amount of money spent by the Pentagon in one day, $1.5 billion, is exactly the amount needed to provide sleeping nets, which prevent malaria, to all of Africa. He emphasized that military action, including the U.S. air strikes in Somalia launched last month, cannot bring stability to Africa while poverty and hunger are still rampant.

While he accused governments of “watching people die like a spectator sport,” Sachs encouraged the audience to join the fight against extreme poverty. When asked what role young people could play, Sachs assigned ending extreme poverty by 2025 as homework for students, lightening the conversation by adding that the assignment is “open book, and you can work in groups.”