Sachs's method of approaching globalization and development is not the only model present in the world today, but it is distinct in its focus on both development and aid. In her book In Search of the Good Life, Rebecca Todd Peters describes four broad categories of approaches to globalization. She draws the distinction between categories based on the implicit values that back each one, focusing on the aspects of context for moral decision-making, humanity's telos or goal, and understanding of human flourishing. The four resulting categories are neoliberalism, social development, earthism, and postcolonialism. Sachs's approach most closely resembles social development as Peters describes it. Social development approaches "share confidence in the neoclassical principles ... but also recognize a certain responsibility on the part of governments to protect and care for the most marginalized members of society." (2) These aspects are reflected in Sachs's insistence that government aid is needed to help the extreme poor enter world markets, climb the development ladder, and potentially achieve prosperity. Like many who hold the social development perspective, Sachs does not shy away from the fact that economic growth and its benefit are unequally distributed, but this does not lead him to decry the existing economic model. Instead, he argues that those people and nations who have most benefited from globalization should pay their fair share in helping others escape poverty. Sachs's approach shows humanity's telos as progress and the good life as having enough of basic needs to avoid suffering, both of which are values common to the social development position. His belief that it is possible to meet basic needs for everyone on the planet spurs him to action, and the idea of progress allows him to envision a "development ladder" that countries can climb. Though Sachs shares these values, he differs from others by largely avoiding discussion of the cultural or social needs of those in poverty. He focuses more on the economic aspects of development, with the implication that if material conditions improve, social and cultural conditions will follow. The greatest strength of Sachs's book lies in the depth of his economic analysis. His calculations show that it is theoretically possible to end extreme poverty within the bounds of the relatively small commitment of 0.7% of GDP already made by rich countries. If the necessary investments were made to lift countries out of the "poverty trap" preventing them from entering market-driven development, he claims, the results would be tremendous: fertility and infant mortality rates would decrease; literacy rates (especially of women) would increase; and lifespan would increase. Sachs' outrage at the ongoing neglect of the poor, which is the driving force behind his book, becomes even more poignant in light of the facts he presents. If ending extreme poverty is possible, he finds it inexcusable not to do so. His book may serve to raise consciousness of poverty and, especially in conjunction with Bono's campaign, may spur people to take the sorts of actions he proposes.
 In a similar way, Sachs's approach does not give most citizens of countries receiving aid a voice in determining what actions their country should take to combat extreme poverty. It has a weakness common to the social development approach, lacking a democratization of power. Sachs's country-specific "differential diagnosis" and his insistence that countries design their own plans to meet the MDGs is an improvement over the previous approach, exemplified by the IMF and structural adjustment programs, of applying the same set of policies to every country. However, it does not involve consultation with the communities and people affected by these plans. As Sachs acknowledges, the poor know "the nature of their predicament, whether it [is] the absence of anti-AIDS drugs or antimalarial bed nets, or fertilizers, or mobile phones." (11) Communities in poverty are therefore capable of informing governments of their most pressing needs, making it possible to tailor a country's plan for using foreign direct investment in the most effective manner. To those people and communities who have been marginalized by the prevailing model of globalization, plans to reach the MDGs that they do not participate in creating may appear to be neocolonialism disguised as aid. As Miguel De La Torre remarks in Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, "Only from the margins of power and privilege can a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of the prevailing social structures be ascertained... [T]hose on the margins ... know what it means to be a marginalized person attempting to survive within a social context designed to benefit the privileged few at their expense."1 Without hearing the voices of the most vulnerable, it is not possible to fully understand what can be done and what is needed to bring about the liberation of the poor from the bondage of the poverty trap.
1. (New York, Orbis Books, 2004) 12.
© July 2010
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 10, Issue 7