Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a commentator on religion for National Public Radio. In this post he reviews Jeffrey Sachs' Reith Lectures.
To those of a certain temper of mind, a hope took hold in the years after the Great War that the “world community” was maturing toward a new stage of political and economic cooperation—that of socialism. There seemed to be lots of theorists around who nurtured this notion and no shortage of politicians who swooned under its sway. British Labour MP John Strachey caputured the mood:
“It is clear that man will in the end tire of the inconvenient idiosyncrasies of loyalty and will wish to pool the cultural heritage of the human race into a world synthesis.”
Since then, we’ve seen the “inconvenient idiosyncrasies” of the Third Reich, the Soviet Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and, of course, the rise of Islamic jihad. So much for the world synthesis: Man has not yet grown tired of his irrational loyalties, but the dream that men and nations will do so—and will do so with dispatch—remains too attractive to let die.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, delivering the BBC’s prestigious 2007 Reith Lectures, is keeping hope alive. His gospel is a familiar message of global cooperation—rich nations delivering money and resources to developing countries—that can defeat poverty in almost no time flat. We need merely to shed our petty rivalries and rearrange our spending priorities. “We can end poverty, at home and abroad, with the technologies and tools that we have, if we trust each other sufficiently, at home and abroad,” he predicts. “The more people understand the real choices the real consequences and the real power that we have, with phenomenal technologies available, the more likely it is that we make the right choices.”
Mr. Sachs’s special burden, a supremely humane one, is to end deprivation on the African continent. He identifies four obstacles:
- low food production
- deficient infrastructure and
All of these problems, he claims, are “solvable with proven and relatively low-cost technologies.” Each of his lectures, in fact, emphasizes the role of science, technology and economic management in overcoming poverty on a global scale. Each is designed to challenge the conscience of the West in its relationship to the developing world.