Sunday, March 13, 2005

For Best Performance by an Economist, in the Category; 'Damnation With Faint Praise'....

The winner would have to be NYU's William Easterly for carving this turkey:

Over the past two decades, [Jeffrey] Sachs has simply been the world's greatest economic reformer. It's perhaps fitting that he has enlisted Bono, the lead singer of U2 and development activist, to pen an introduction: the rock star as economist meets the economist as rock star. Perhaps someone so gifted and hardworking can be forgiven if his narrative is a little self-serving -- for instance, when he portrays his plans as responsible for early successes in Bolivia and Poland. At the same time, he prefers a more complicated analysis for the failures in which he was involved, like the chaos in Russia, later stagnation in Bolivia and Africa's perpetual crisis (their geography was bad, they didn't follow his advice, the West didn't give them enough aid, etc.).

Then follows a thorough demolition of Sach's latest grand idea for ending world poverty. An analysis showing Sachs hasn't a clue of The Use of Knowledge In Society.

Easterly ends effectively, if not kindly:

Perhaps we can excuse [Sachs'] allegedly easy-to-achieve dreams as the tactics of a fundraiser for the poor -- someone who's out to galvanize public opinion to back dramatically higher aid abroad. Sachs was born to play the role of fundraiser. And it's easier to feel good about his sometimes simplistic sales pitch for foreign aid if it leads to spending more dollars on desperately poor people, as opposed to, say, wasteful weapons systems.

The danger is that when the utopian dreams fail (as they will again), the rich-country public will get even more disillusioned about foreign aid. Sachs rightly notes that we need not worry whether the pathetic amount of current U.S. foreign aid -- little more than a 10th of a penny for every dollar of U.S. income -- is wasted.

Foreign aid's prospects will brighten only if aid agencies become more accountable for results, and demonstrate to the public that some piecemeal interventions improve the lives of desperate people. So yes, do read Sachs's eloquent descriptions of poverty and his compelling ethical case for the rich to help the poor. Just say no to the Big Plan.

[Thanks to Russell Roberts for the link.]

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