Sunday, July 03, 2005

Addressing Poverty at Gleneagles

The G8 Summit at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland this week will be presented with a historic opportunity--and a responsibility--to take meaningful steps to end the most extreme forms of poverty in the world. For President Bush, it will be an interesting test measuring the compatibility of his conservative political ideology with his Christian beliefs.

What should happen at Gleneagles? At a minimum, the G8 leaders should be expected to commit their states to spending 0.7 percent of GDP for the relief of poverty, a target developed at the 2002 Monterey Financing for Development Conference. (Two G8 members, France and the U.K., have already committed to reaching the 0.7 percent level by 2012 and 2013, respectively.)

For a view of what's at stake and what can be done, see this interview with economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, or Sachs's article in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "The Development Challenge" (.pdf file). To the objection that ending poverty is a fantasy that no one should take seriously as a policy goal, Sachs replies, "When John Maynard Keynes was writing at the height of the Great Depression in 1930, he said there would be no more extreme poverty in Europe and America by the end of the 20th century--no starvation or absolute desperation. It sounded like fantasy then too, but Keynes got it right."

But isn't the United States already incredibly generous with those around the world who are in need? In a word, no. In a recent op-ed piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Sachs wrote the following:

Total annual U.S. aid for all of Africa is about $3 billion, equivalent to about two days of Pentagon spending. About $1 billion pays for emergency food aid, of which half is for transport. About $1.5 billion is for "technical cooperation," essentially salaries of U.S. consultants. Only about $500 million a year--less than $1 per African--finances clinics, schools, food production, roads, power, Internet connectivity, safe drinking water, sanitation, family planning and lifesaving health interventions to fight malaria, AIDS and other diseases.

But is a commitment to spend 0.7 percent of GDP for global poverty relief politically feasible for the president of the United States? In other words, would the American people accept such a commitment on their behalf? According to a just-released poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), 65 percent of Americans would accept such a commitment if other rich nations did so as well. (Among Democrats, 77 percent expressed support; among Republicans, 57 percent--still a solid majority--did so.)

The facts are on the table. What will the G8 do this week? What will President Bush do on behalf of the United States? What, in the end, will his moral values guide him to do?