Economist Jeffery Sachs, from Columbia University, is commonly known for his opposing views from economist William Easterly, New York University. Specifically, the two hold different positions on the topic of foreign development aid. The last couple chapters of Poor Economics discuss these different viewpoints. My stance would be a combination of the two economists’ viewpoints, I personally agree with bits and pieces of each of their arguments.
In regards to Sachs, I agree with his idea of corruption as a poverty trap: poverty causes corruption, and corruption causes poverty. According to Banerjee and Duflo, Sachs’ suggestion is to break the vicious cycle by focusing on making people in developing countries less poor – he believes aid should be given for specific goals (such as malaria control, food production, drinking water, and sanitation) that can easily be monitored. He believes that raising living standards would empower civil society and governments to maintain the rule of the law (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011). The idea that an accumulation of small gains can make a huge impact in a community is something I truly believe.
However, on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Easterly. In regards to this economist, I agree with his concept of allowing countries to be free (economically and politically) and organically creating their own growth without the “takeover” of outside countries. Easterly believes we, as outsiders, should “stop pushing education and health care on an indifferent populace, but rather allow them the freedom to find ways to get themselves educated and healthy, through their own collective action” (Banerjee & Duflo, 2011). I also believe the people receiving aid must be interested and committed to making their livelihood better. If the people are indifferent, the aid money, time, and effort is wasted and countries will not be able to sustain any development. Both men bring up valid points in their arguments, but I stand in the middle of the two – agreeing with certain aspects of each.
These two are clearly not the only individuals who have formed opinions about the topic of aid, there are many others that have shared their voices online. For example, writers of povertyeducation.org bring up another important point. Aid, for the most part, is going toward corrupt governments that embezzle more than we may believe, and “rich nations have yet to fulfill their promise.” The aid money goals (numbers) that several countries have promised to provide for needier countries have not been met. It makes me question how seriously these developed countries even want to help out these impoverished communities. It’s easy for a country (and its leaders) to promote the goal to end poverty, but it’s not as easy to make a sustainable effort towards this goal; several supporting countries have made this apparent.
Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 aim to end poverty in all forms everywhere and end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. I think Banerjee and Duflo have addressed these issues sufficiently in Poor Economics, in terms of understanding and explaining them to readers. Their deep thought, research, and analysis of these goals is apparent and impressive. However, because there is still poverty and hunger in the world, they haven’t totally eradicated these issues as the Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 strive to do. I think it is fair to say they have presented several methods to work towards these goals, but it is nearly impossible for two individuals to achieve these goals in their entirely. There has definitely been progress in all these categories, but there is still progress that has to be made, by worldwide contribution – not exclusively by two individuals.
Banerjee and Duflo have plenty of supporters and critics. It’s important to read what others have to say about the policies and concepts presented in Poor Economics. Supporters say their method of using randomized trials is groundbreaking and helpful in the search for solutions to these problems of hunger and poverty. An article in The Economist notes, “They promised to sift nuggets of truth from the slurry of received wisdom and wishful thinking that characterises much aid-talk. The hope was that once a trial proved the worth of a project or programme, governments and donors would back it and prescribe it more widely.” Although some people are optimistic about the impact of these randomized trials, others believe they are limiting and degrading to the intelligence of the impoverished. One online critic expresses his opinion on his blog: “This approach limits the extent to which poor people are allowed to be clever. The extent of their intelligence is reduced to rats in a maze, figuring out what works under the … supervision [of Banerjee and Duflo]. If there are ways that poor people want to change their relation to power, we’ll never know. These are not subject to randomized controlled trials.” Every author and economist has supporters and critics, however, I believe the authors of Poor Economics truly have more supporters (including myself!). I think Banerjee and Duflo have sufficiently addressed and presented solutions to the issues raised in Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2. I would like to see more adoption and implementation of these policies and solutions by governments in order to facilitate more progress toward ending poverty and hunger worldwide.
Banerjee, A. & Duflo, E. (2011). Poor Economics.