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Archive for March, 2010

Book Review: The End of Poverty

The End of Poverty

So finally, after stalling briefly (see my review of “Naked Economics,”) I tackled Jeffrey Sachs’ “The End of Poverty.” I have to admit, after reading Sachs’ nemesis Bill Easterly’s awesome book “The White Man’s Burden,” I had low expectations for Sachs. I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by “The End of Poverty”: much of the book was imminently readable, rationale, even hopeful. The first 2/3rds of the book detailing Sachs’ dealings in the imperiled economies of Bolivia, Poland, and Russia had me truly captivated; it read almost like an adventure novel, for the dorky, altruistic set. Sachs made a believer out of me when he stuck to the topics of debt-relief for countries and the lousy job the U.S. and other rich countries have done of closing the poverty gap. He is a compelling champion who obviously believes in what he preaches; actually, he and Easterly probably have more in common than not, much to their mutual chagrin, I’m sure. They both do masterful jobs of pointing out the hollow promises and even outright damage the West has done, and both actually do support aid—it’s just that Sachs supports it on a much grander (and, necessarily, less accountable) scale.

Ironically, the book lost steam for me in the final 100 pages (though I’d paid rapt attention to the first 200), just when Sachs began to lay out his plan for the “end of poverty” in our generation. I think what lost it for me was that *his* plan still lacks buy in (literally and figuratively) from so many large players (the U.S. included) that the “plan,” in the end, came off more hopeful than practical. “Ending poverty” a la Sachs is such a broad, almost utopian goal with no one person or group on the hook for achieving it that I fear in 5 years we will see that we are no where near achieving the MDG benchmarks made years ago. Nonetheless, the book is worth a read, and honestly made me analyze my own beliefs as far as aid and development go… I’m with Sachs in spirit, if not necessarily in execution. You’ve got to give it to him, though…he’s been out there, every day, seeking to improve the lives of others: it’s a heck of a lot more than most people do, or will ever care to attempt.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Naked Economics

Undressing the often excrutiating science

So here I was, all set to tackle The End of Poverty by Jeff Sachs; however, after reading Bill Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden last month, I was yearning for a deeper understanding of several economic issues that arose while reading the latter (great) book. Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan fit the bill, and then some! I highly recommend this book to anyone that wishes to understand basic—and some not so basic—economic concepts without having to suffer through endless chapters full of charts, graphs, and formulas so convoluted that even Einstein would scratch his bushy noggin.

He does a great job of using simple, even funny language to explain some of the ideas and concepts that escape most economic lay-people (such as myself). His chapters on the Federal Reserve and Global Trade, in particular, were standouts that truly made me view the world in a different way. Anyone reading this review probably just raised a skeptical eyebrow, but it’s true, Wheeland can even make the Fed and the machinations of Ben Bernake seem like a John Grisham page-turner …ok, well maybe that’s going a bit far, but I did enjoy and learn a lot from the book, nonetheless.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars