Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs outlined his goal to help the one billion people living in “extreme poverty” in the next 20 years while speaking at the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills last Thursday. Sachs spoke about his first-hand encounters with poverty and presented a plan that he urged the world to participate in.

Eston Bond
Economist Jeffrey Sachs explains the vitality of the United Nations “Millenium Project” plan to take on poverty last Thursday. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

Sachs has gained recognition as director of the United Nations Millennium Project, a program designed to cut poverty in half by 2015. His bestselling book “The End of Poverty” was recently released and contains his systematic method for the termination of world suffering.

Sachs called his approach “clinical economics,” ­ where countries afflicted by extreme poverty are assessed individually and donor countries treat them by giving increased amounts of aid.

“Clinical economics means assigning the logic of modern science-based medicine to the methodology of modern and ‘should-be-science-based’ development,” Sachs said.

Providing greater aid for growing food, fighting disease and creating an infrastructure to allow countries to become part of the world economy would help many of the world’s poor escape from poverty, Sachs said.

In 2000, donor countries agreed to donate 0.7 percent of their gross national income to accomplish the goals of the U.N. Millennium Project — a promise that Sachs said has not been backed with action.

“This is something that the United States signed on to, not some invention by me or by the U.N. The countries of the world agreed to this,” he said. “Let’s just live up to what we said, and we’ll reap a lot of benefits from it.”

Speaking primarily about Africa, Sachs gave examples of some causes of poverty on the continent, while also sharing anecdotes from his own travels. He showed photographs of overcrowded hospitals in Kenya, where he said the government has $8 per person each year to spend on health care, compared to the $6,000 allotted to each person in the United States per year. He also gave examples of people suffering from malaria, AIDS, contaminated water and a lack of irrigation due to poor weather conditions.

“As every day passes, 20,000 people die of extreme poverty on our planet. They’re dying of malaria, an entirely treatable disease. They’re dying of AIDS, a disease both preventable and, though not curable, wholly treatable. They’re dying of tuberculosis, (also) wholly treatable,” Sachs said.

He also spoke against the current relief efforts of the United States, saying that while the annual budget for the military is $500 billion, the budget for aid in Africa is only $2 billion. Sachs said politicians blame poverty on corrupt governments and do not look at the other factors.

“President Bush has said the word ‘freedom’ a thousand times without saying the word ‘poverty’ once,” Sachs said.

But Andrew Coleman, professor of economics at the University, said giving more aid could stifle the development of a country with a corrupt government in power. He said countries will only develop with the right incentives.

“Sometimes aid given to countries where the governments are really bad can worsen things,” he said. “It depends on where it goes and how it’s used.”

Coleman stressed the importance of political change along with the economic aid.

“Once you’ve got your country into the right political frame, aid can be very useful,” he said.

Sachs said the worst attitude for poverty relief is pessimism. He said the goals of the Millennium Project can be accomplished at a moderate cost. He stressed the economic impact of globalization on medical relief efforts.

“A great drug, which will save Africans from malaria, is a discovery of Chinese scientists, and that’s the world promise that we have. (That’s) a world society that can share and do it peacefully,” he said.

Sachs is the son of Ted Sachs, a former labor lawyer in the Detroit area and the man for whom the event was dedicated.

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