Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Easterly vs. Sachs

Easterly reseña (negativamente) a Jeffrey Sachs
THE END OF POVERTY - Economic Possibilities for Our Time

1. Easterly ataca:
Jeffrey D. Sachs's guided tour to the poorest regions of the Earth is enthralling and maddening at the same time -- enthralling, because his eloquence and compassion make you care about some very desperate people; maddening, because he offers solutions that range all the way from practical to absurd. It's a shame that Sachs's prescriptions are unconvincing because he is resoundingly right about the tragedy of world poverty.

Social reformers have found two ways to respond to this complexity; Karl Popper summed them up best a half-century ago as "utopian social engineering" versus "piecemeal democratic reform." Sachs is the intellectual leader of the utopian camp.

To Sachs, poverty reduction is mostly a scientific and technological issue (hence the technical jargon above), in which aid dollars can buy cheap interventions to fix development problems.

But Sachs's anti-poverty prescriptions rest heavily on the kindness of some pretty dysfunctional regimes, not to mention the famously inefficient international aid bureaucracy.

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."

2. Y Sachs responde:

William Easterly, who reviewed my book The End of Poverty (Book World, March 13), is notorious as the cheerleader for "can't-do" economics. For years as a World Bank staffer, he watched failed programs during the era of World Bank "structural adjustment lending" and reached the erroneous conclusion that any bold effort to help the poorest of the poor would fail. He wrongly made the Bank's shortcomings into a general theory. The World Bank has since moved on, but Easterly has not.

Easterly's simplistic approach fits well with many conservatives in Washington, who would rather blame the poor than help them. Somehow the world's poorest people are made out to be our enemy. According to this upside-down worldview, the people dying of malaria are out for our money -- all $3 per year that it would cost each person in the rich world to help Africa mount an effective control program!

Easterly's charge that I am utopian gets it backward. Easterly's World Bank experience made him into a dystopian, seeing the worst in everything and expecting failure everywhere.

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