National Press Club

No 'silver bullets' to solving society ills, Kristof tells Book Rap

September 30, 2014 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver | HeatherForsgrenWeaver@gmail.com

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof differentiated between "silver bullet" and "silver buckshot" solutions to social problems at a Sept. 29 National Press Club Book Rap.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof differentiated between "silver bullet" and "silver buckshot" solutions to social problems at a Sept. 29 National Press Club Book Rap.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

There are no easy answers to solving problems like broken homes, substance abuse and marginal unemployment, said New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof at a National Press Club Book Rap, Sept. 29.

"It always seems to me that we have this yearning for the silver bullets and there aren't silver bullets out there but there is, in a sense, silver buckshot. There are a lot of little things that move the needle somewhat," said Kristof, who is promoting his new book, "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity."

One of the reasons that Kristof wrote the book with his wife Sheryl WuDunn is to help people know which organizations offer the best opportunities for giving, he said.

"It feels like so many people wanted to find a better self of fulfillment, [or] model behavior for their kids, [or] just to make their mark in the world but they are skeptical about corruption, about inefficiency, about whether one person really can make a difference," Kristof said. "It strikes us that there are so many ways that one can have an impact, if one is just willing. Maybe not even through a formal intervention but simply by taking risks, by showing a little more empathy."

Kristof is a proponent of education programs as a way for people to escape poverty.

"I believe whether you are talking about Washington or Tanzania, the best escalator out of poverty is probably education," he said.

However, at the end of the program, Kristof cautioned that education is not the only answer.

"We absolutely need to do more with education but we need to think of it more broadly to also incorporate quality and also think of these other ways in which the pipeline to education becomes much richer," he said.

There is a large economic disparity between white and black Americans, Kristof said.

"The black/white wealth gap in this country is 18 times – an average white person's net assets are 18 times that of the average black person's assets. That is greater than the black/white wealth gap of Apartheid South Africa," he said.

Journalists need to write more about the remedies to problems in conflict zones, Kristof said.

"What I do think we should write about is on the remedy side and the notion [of] empowering women," Kristof said. "I wish we would right now not just be trying to figure out how to drop bombs and drones, although we may need to do that, but also there are three million Syrian refugees in Turkey. We should make sure that those kids get an education, including those girls, and they're not."

Kristof announced that PBS will air a four-hour documentary on the book in January. He was introduced at the Book Rap by Mark Krikorian, a member of the Club's Book & Author Committee.