May 10, 2007

Getting the world to work together

Jeffrey Sachs
This year’s Reith lectures, delivered by Jeffrey Sachs (economist and advisor to world governments), were a paean to liberal multilateralism – the idea that, in an interconnected world, problems can be resolved only through cooperation and understanding. I recommend listening to them at the BBC Radio 4 website, and shall try to summarise them below:

(1) Liberal Multilateralism

“We live in an interconnected world with global shared problems. Fear begets fear, trust begets trust”.

Sachs states that peace is process of international engagement and collaboration rather than belligerence and war. The world needs open-source leadership of the kind provided by global foundations on aids, Africa, climate change etc, rather than nation states looking after their own interests.

(2) Addressing resource demand

“Human activity has taken over vast parts of the natural cycles in ways that fundamentally threaten us in the years ahead”.

There is a battle for resources in local areas that will have a global impact. We cannot continue to grow at the current rate of consumption.

(3) Reducing poverty

“Alleviating poverty in all parts of the world is key to our collective security. . The question is why rich countries with so much wealth are so irresponsibly and relentlessly neglectful when the amounts needed are so small and the consequences of inaction are so catastrophic for all”.

Sachs argues that helping children to survive actually reduces population pressures. When there is low life expectancy at birth, people have more children. In fact, life expectancy at birth is the single best indicator of social organisation and wellbeing in a society.

Many global governments are not meeting their commitments to provide 0.7% of GNP in international aid. Countries that do not look after their own poor are less likely to contribute globally. The lack of a domestic safety net for America’s poor creates a society of people fearful for their economic future in a world filled with threats – where each must fend for himself. By contrast, Northern Europe has high domestic security and support, high levels of social trust, and is meeting its GNP commitment to help the world’s poor.

(4) Providing technology solutions

“Technology is the fundament of economic development . . We have powerful technologies which can be mobilised and can make a remarkable difference at a remarkable rate.”

Technical advances in one place are rapidly adopted across the world – we are reaching a state of global convergence in terms of available tools. Sachs advocates simple practical solutions on the ground such as anti malaria bed nets, anti-retrovirals, capital to seed higher food production, etc.

Commitment to international development goals must be reinforced by informed governments using scientific knowledge on how to achieve them. Sachs also advocates “Open source” global cooperation – myriad ideas contributed within a framework of clearly agreed goals to help the world’s poor.