We are the generation that can end poverty, argues Jeffrey SachsIn his inaugural address
a half a century ago, President John F. Kennedy laid down a basic principle: "For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life." Peace or violence; building or destruction. It's our choice. It's our fate.Kennedy's choice was clear. He declared, "to those people in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves.... If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." The Peace Corps was the first step of that pledge.Yet Kennedy's message was drowned out by assassination, then Vietnam, and later Watergate, the tumultuous end of the Cold War, Bosnia, and now Iraq. We've chosen wrong, time and again. We've gambled not only with war, but also with the climate and the ecological support systems upon which our lives depend. But as another voice said in the early 1960s, "the times they are a-changin'."Go to a campus today, and you will find students organizing for a saner future. They are fighting for global justice, for the control of AIDS, malaria, and TB, for the end of violence in Darfur, for help to the poorest of the poor. Students are training themselves with the tools that they will need to join the effort. This generation is traveling to the world's troubled areas, especially those in poverty or under threat of environmental ruin, to see, to learn, to talk, and to contribute. This generation, accused of indifference and greed, is awakening to the much greater riches of challenge and action to improve the world.What John Kennedy said in 1961 about our power to do good is truer today than ever before. The internet age is the age of global empowerment. Places out of reach just a few years ago are now part of a global society. No village, no rural hamlet, no mountain redoubt is beyond reach. This binds us in a common fate, and in a common purpose. With communications, the flow of information, and the tools of modern science - medicines, insecticide-treated bed nets, improved seed varieties, ecologically sound pest management, small-scale rainwater harvesting-farm families living in hunger and desperation in the poorest parts of the world can overcome extreme poverty, hunger, disease, and isolation.
|To leave mass suffering unattended is to signal that life itself is without value|
This isn't speculation and hope, but fact. In recent decades, hundreds of millions of people around the world, mainly in Asia, have broken the seemingly inexorable cycle of poverty. The past generation of rural families in China and India benefited from irrigation systems, trade routes, and reasonably healthy environments. They are enjoying improved health, access to education, and a chance to participate productively in a global economy. They show what can happen. In Kennedy's time, nearly half of the world's population lived in extreme poverty. Today, that figure is around one-sixth.That one-sixth of humanity, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, must not be blamed for their continuing crises. The poorest of the poor can't get out of the mess on their own, and they often face challenges that their luckier counterparts did not face. They must grapple with rain-fed agriculture, droughts, lack of roads and rail, and the miserable burdens of malaria and other tropical diseases. Their problems are not hopeless-far from it-but harder than elsewhere.We are the first generation on the planet that can truly aim to end extreme poverty. "We" includes all of us. "We" includes old and young, rich and poor, Americans and the rest of the world. An interconnected world, a global society, will rise or fall to the extent to which we work together rather than tear each other apart. The world has its demons of division. We must urgently find a compass of common purpose.It is one thing to see suffering when there is no solution. That is the cruelty of a cold universe. But when solutions are at hand, suffering is not only a tragedy, but a risk as well. To leave mass suffering unattended is to signal that life itself, anywhere, is without value.Our children will be safe when children everywhere are safe, and when they are empowered to pursue their hopes and dreams. How thrilling that we can be part of that transformation.