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Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs intends to cut world poverty in half. He outlines his plan in a cover story in this past week’s Time magazine.

Sachs isn’t just an academic sitting in an ivory tower writing provocative papers. As director of the U.N. Millennium Project, he has tens of millions of dollars financing his activities and clearly is someone who knows how to get attention and mobilize power and influence. Time’s cover story is just the latest of high-profile press coverage the professor has received, which includes major stories recently in the New York Times Magazine and the Economist.

What’s his plan?

Quadruple U.S. foreign aid. Add a total of about $130 billion to foreign-aid expenditures of the world’s industrialized countries and recycle these funds into spending programs in developing nations. According to Sachs, these programs will reduce global poverty by 50 percent by 2015.

Is there an echo in here? Aren’t these “new” ideas something we’ve heard before?

Sachs talks about “ending poverty in our time,” which we can do by adopting his “new method.” Tax and spend to end our problems? A new method? The real question is what is this guy peddling to reporters to induce their amnesia.

Here’s President Lyndon Johnson announcing the launch of his “war on poverty” and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964:

[F]or the first time in history, it is possible to conquer poverty …

The Act does not merely expand old programs or improve what is already being done. It casts a new course. It strikes at the causes, not just the consequences, of poverty.

When Johnson launched his “war,” the percentage of the U.S. population in poverty was around 19 percent. By the early 1970s, it dropped to around 12 percent. However, the decline in the national rate of poverty was already headed downward well before 1964. The poverty rate in the late 1950s was 23 percent. U.S. poverty has fluctuated around 12 percent for the last 30 years.

Despite trillions of dollars of expenditures with questionable impact on the incidence of poverty, the greatest costs of Johnson’s programs were the human costs. People were taught to turn to government rather than their families and themselves for the resources to contend with life’s challenges. The psychology of victimization, passivity and dependency is the great legacy of Johnson’s poverty programs.

The black poverty rate – 23 percent in 2001 – remains well above the national average. Incidence of out-of-wedlock births and fatherless households in the black community are triple today what they were when Johnson signed his legislation.

As Tom Sowell has pointed out, blacks were making great progress before the 1960s. From 1940 to 1960, not an easy time for blacks in America, the incidence of black poverty dropped 50 percent.

I find it particularly ironic that Sachs chooses to wave his finger most accusingly at his own country. Listening to Sachs, you would think that the United States, the world’s greatest engine of prosperity, is the most guilty for current levels of global poverty.

This gets back to the fact that Sachs thinks that foreign aid (translation: government spending programs) is what creates prosperity. So, by Sachs’s measure, the United States is stingy and not doing its part.

But government spending programs do not create prosperity. Free people do.

Regarding U.S. generosity, Sachs seems to have little interest in work done by Carol Adelman of the Hudson Institute, who has shown that U.S. philanthropy going abroad from private sources is three-and-a-half times larger than official U.S. government foreign aid.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting John Coors, a businessman, entrepreneur and Christian philanthropist. While flying over sub-Saharan Africa at night, he looked down from his plane and saw darkness, even though he knew he was flying over a highly populated area. He knew what to do. He started a program setting up energy stores and delivering batteries and small propane stoves to these communities. He found that families were willing to invest two months of their meager income to purchase these stoves. Coors is bringing light to Africa and he is doing it through his own initiative.

Certainly, I share Sachs’ concern about poverty and suffering. But the answer is what Coors is doing. This option is open to Sachs. He could use his energy to mobilize private resources and private philanthropists and encourage freedom and the values that go along with this.

Sachs is promoting exactly the wrong message in parts of the world that need to hear the opposite of what he is telling them. I hope our own government does not cave in to his demands. We should listen to President Bush that freedom is the message America should be sharing with the rest of the world.

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