Jeffrey Sachs & The Economic Possibilities of Our Time

During classes in past semesters, I have experienced samples of Jeffrey Sachs’ work in the form of his 2011 book, “The Price of Civilization.” Now, reading his 2005 publication, “The End of Poverty: How We Can Make It Happen In Our Lifetime,” I feel that I have been able to explore more of the Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University’s work and theory. Sachs has continuously emphasized the need for a multifaceted approach to economic development in all of his publications and works. He has also emphasized that increased and responsible foreign aid is nearly always a necessary part of economic development in all situations. One of his strongest critics, William Easterly (author of The White Man’s Burden), argues strongly against Sachs’ theory regarding developing and impoverished countries that states that “these countries are stuck in a ‘poverty trap,’ from which there is no escape,” except at the hands of massively scaled-up foreign aid. 

This foreign aid is not sustainable in the opinion of Sachs’ critics, which in turn argue that the aid is obsolete in terms of actual and functioning aid. Other critics, including Nina Munk (author of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty), and Paul Theroux (American travel writer and novelist), have made statements against Sachs’ $120 million mission for aid in Africa, saying that the effort only “created dependance.”

Furthermore, Sachs’ statements of the possibility of poverty’s end by 2025 have been equally and unsurprisingly, criticized. With setbacks that he even acknowledges, such as AIDS, geographic barriers, political conflicts, poor infrastructure, and protectionism, this goal seems quite idealistic and unrealistic. However, his description of “prescription” needed by struggling and impoverished economies is much easier to follow. Just as each person needs specific and unique diagnoses and cures when they visit a medical doctor, so does each economy. This individualized approach ensures that specific debilitating factors can be dealt with on a highly specified level.

Here, I have found a video that I think poses the issues that Nina Munk raises in response to Sachs very well:

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