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The End of Poverty, according to Jeffrey Sach

April 8, 2006

Last Wednesday it was “Ethics Day” on the campus where I attend college. There were lectures and a key note speaker, Mr. Gibney–producer, writer and director of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”. I have not felt so inspired in a VERY long time. I got to talk to Alex Gibney in person and , as everyone famous I have ever met with the exception of John Waters, he is very short, but I admire him so much. Luckily I tore my self away from him before the verbal lava that erupts from my mouth began to flow. I was quite the dork though, if you know me –you know this to be true–and actually WROTE my question for him down and then read it off my piece of paper. BUT, it was still cool and he is kinda cute in a smart guy kind of way. He looks a bit like Hunter S. Thompson, but not as crazy. The topic of Ethics Day was “Economics and Poverty: Do the wealthy have a responsiblity to end poverty?”

The lecture I attended was given by Prof. Alt and discussed Jeffrey Sachs’ book. See the link below to check out his site.

Project Millennium was a summit on poverty held in the year 2000. This summit was attended by over 140 countries and all agreed to pledge to end poverty by the year 2025. The idea is that each person within the “rich countries” contributes .007 % of their annual income and we can accomplish the goal. See the link below for information about the goals of the millennium project.
“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.

The world has made significant progress in achieving many of the Goals. Between 1990 and 2002 average overall incomes increased by approximately 21 percent. The number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million 1. Child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88. Life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years. An additional 8 percent of the developing world’s people received access to water. And an additional 15 percent acquired access to improved sanitation services.

But progress has been far from uniform across the world-or across the Goals. There are huge disparities across and within countries. Within countries, poverty is greatest for rural areas, though urban poverty is also extensive, growing, and underreported by traditional indicators.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicenter of crisis, with continuing food insecurity, a rise of extreme poverty, stunningly high child and maternal mortality, and large numbers of people living in slums, and a widespread shortfall for most of the MDGs. Asia is the region with the fastest progress, but even there hundreds of millions of people remain in extreme poverty, and even fast-growing countries fail to achieve some of the non-income Goals. Other regions have mixed records, notably Latin America, the transition economies, and the Middle East and North Africa, often with slow or no progress on some of the Goals and persistent inequalities undermining progress on others.”

SO, my question to myself is , Do we have an ethical responsibilty to help out and end poverty? The Prof. I heard lecture said that he could not come up with any reasons why we should not, but that doing so would serve the greatere good, therefore each individual among some other reasonable assesments. How do you convince people to look past the unfamiliararity of an unknown face, thousands of miles away when most will not help their neighbor they know and see everyday?

Prof. Alt said that he admires two philosophers greatly; Mencius- a Confusian disciple and David Hume. The two quotes he left us with are:

“Everyone has a heart that cannot bear to see others suffer” Book of Mencius, 11Ab

“Morality ca’t be justified but it can be explained” David Hume, from Enquiry

Do we have to justify morality to motivate people to become unified and help others? Do we all really have a heart that cannot bear to see others suffer–or just ourselves?

(note: I am new to this internet blog thing and do not yet know how to do those clever underlined links within my post…hopefully I will figure it out soon…)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    April 13, 2006 5:33 pm

    Cole, you are so great. And I am also totally the type to write down my question first. By the way, do you know of any particularly rad parenting books? An old friend of mine had a baby a couple of months ago and I want to send her one for Mother’s Day…

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