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Upon reading Nina Munk’s assessment of Jeffrey Sachs’ objective to end extreme poverty on a global scale, The Idealist, a few nuances drew my attention. Firstly, Sachs’ deep belief that extreme poverty could be completely eradicated, and his unrelenting motivation to see it through; and secondly, his point-blank illustration that with enough money, anything is possible. He unwaveringly appeals for copious amounts of money that seem unreasonable, but are in fact a trivial amount when considering the wealth within developed nations; he successfully draws our attention to the solution of “our” wealth in addition to the problem of “their” poverty. His suggestions for economic development hold the assumption that developing nations cannot be left to see their own economic result; therefore, charity-centric economic models are his ideal solution to global poverty. Though Sachs’ work successfully illustrates an innate economic interconnectedness between the developed and developing world in regards to the relationship between international organizations, government agencies, donors, and domestic citizens, he does not completely explore the implications of this interconnectedness on the success or failure of foreign development aid. Munk illustrates that Sachs does not adequately prepare for inherent problems such as failing legal devices, political incoherence, and inefficient capital accumulation. Further, Sachs does not sufficiently address the prevailing cultural, social and educational disparities and how this affects the implementation of Western economic models, as well as the lack of formal property rights systems in the legal sector of the economy, leading to the norm of using extralegal markets. Through Nina Munk’s observations of Sachs’ idealist, charity-centered approach to foreign development aid, the importance of inciting inclusive, culturally- compatible economic models and formal property rights systems is illustrated; further, we conclude that moving away from charity efforts may be best made possible through analysis of the process of extending property rights to indigenous groups in developed nations. It is Sachs’ hands-on approach that makes his methods intriguing. He is outspoken about the notion that development aid has largely been detached from field work, and is pursued heavily in academia where there lacks practical implementation of solutions to observations on global poverty. He demands that implementation of foreign development aid be based in sufficient financial commitment, and argues that many of the failures in foreign aid and development is simply due to absence in finances.
This callous result-oriented productivity illustrates the reasoning behind Sachs’ departure from a career within prestigious academic institutions in order to aid the ending of poverty. Munk quotes Sachs saying: “this isn’t an intellectual exercise or a spectator sport. I’m trying to get something done. That’s what I do for a living” (211, 2013). ‘The Idealist’ demonstrates Sachs’ shock factor through his illustrations of tangible understanding of what poverty and wealth really mean to society. He gives quantitative information on aid efforts in conjunction with qualitative illustrations of the daily livelihood for people and societies on both ends of the poverty and inequality spectrum, in both developed and developing nations. Through this, he is able to hold everyone accountable for successes and failures in foreign development aid efforts.
The first illustration of his idealist understanding of poverty occurs in the beginning of the book, when Sachs says to Munk: “I’ve done a formal breakdown of what it would cost to fully fund the global prevention of malaria, and it’s two-fifty a year for every American. Two dollars and fifty cents! That’s a single cup of Starbucks coffee” (1, 2013). Munk’s observation of Sachs’ outlook on global poverty is that “the most stubborn problem becomes as easy to grasp as a $2.50 cup of Starbucks coffee. With the right approach, anything is possible; he’s sure of that” (2, 2013). It is through these idealistic, tangible explanations that brought Sachs to prominence in the early 2000s.
Munk shows how Sachs’ solution to global poverty was embraced by the developed world, and led to the height of his celebrity in 2005. Sachs’ main development-oriented project, the Millennium Villages Project, aimed to achieve the “UN’s declaration’s stated goals- eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting disease, and ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015”; it has also been described as a “hugely ambitious social and economic experiment” (38, 2013), a sentiment that Munk illustrates in her analysis of Sachs’ idealist implementation. The goal was to eventually achieve “billions of dollars in foreign aid dedicated to establishing Millennium villages everywhere on the African continent” (39, 2013). Munk correctly illustrates the enormous goal of the Millennium Villages Project and correspondingly enormous factors accompanying development efforts, including incompatibility of Western economic models, to political incoherence, to unforeseen cultural and social stigmas affecting the perception of aid in villages.
Later in The Idealist, Sachs uses the solution of malaria to illustrate “the great divide between rich and poor” explaining that “countries with high rates of malaria grow substantially more slowly than do countries without malaria…as soon as a country has malaria under control, its rate of economic growth starts to increase” (93, 2013). It is a problem relatively easy and cheap to fix comparative to the resulting global economic development, but simply not enough money has been spent; Bill Gates reiterated this sentiment in 2005, adding “do we really not care because it does not affect us?” (95, 2013). This problem is one that looms throughout the course of Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project and is cited as a central detrimental factor to the success of his projects; however, Munk makes clear that Sachs doesn’t immediately recognize that the interconnection among developed and developing societies and their respective problems added an unforeseen layer of complexity to foreign development aid. These complications and externalities disallowed extensive economic reform to occur, at least on the global scale that Sachs had originally allowed us to envision.
One reason that failing solutions to global poverty are still highly implemented is due to the idea that Western economic models and policies, or even models and policies created by Western-educated theorists, are predicted to be correspondingly successful when resolving seemingly parallel problems around the world. Sachs experienced this in 2007 with Uganda, when he suggested the seemingly simple solution of increasing the fertilizer and therefore farm yield; in order to decrease the country’s poverty as Uganda’s population continues to periodically double. During his meeting in 2007 with the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, Sachs quantitatively illustrated the possibility of a 25% increase in gross national product (GNP) as a result of a four-fold increase in farm yield- all due to the correspondingly simple and cheap implementation of increased fertilizer. Museveni apathetically responded: “But there are other things to consider, Professor. You know, in these countries of Africa, we have many other problems. This is not India or China. There are not markets. There is no network. No rails. No roads. We have no political cohesion” (66, 2013). Sachs’ disregard for the interplay of these “other problems”, and his omission of their deep interconnectedness with implications of policy implementation, reduced his brilliant growth calculation and impressive solution to Uganda’s poverty as simply impractical.
It is Sachs’ omission of interconnectedness of political and economic institutions that Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have instead emphasized as the primary factor to helping or hindering development in their work “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty”. Acemoglu and Robinson illustrate through historic examples that there are few, if any, instances in which a nation’s political institutions did not affect their economic institutions. Though economic strategies such as trade liberalization, policy implementation, foreign aid money, and other efforts all positively encourage economic development, if the basic political institutions are corrupt, incoherent, failing, or unaccountable, then the negative effects of these extractive political institutions will render similarly extractive economic institutions, no matter the extent of the foreign patronage. Acemoglu and Robinson also note that this could leave the receiving country in a worse position than its position prior to assistance. Acemoglu and Robinson conversely refer to the ability of inclusive, or positive, political institutions to utilize policy implementation, foreign aid, and other efforts to generate inclusive economic institutions. Through the perception of Acemoglu and Robinson, it seems that the first step to increasing economic development in a country is to incite inclusive political institutions. This is a step that Sachs completely disregards. (YOU CAN ALSO TALK ABOUT EASTERLY BENEVOLENT AUTOCRATS HERE… he spoke about it in class… it links in!)
Sachs failed to fully address the spectrum of political situations in developing countries, and this lead to incomplete plans for development. Perhaps it was the possibility of worsening the economic situation or other unpredictable outcomes of aid that validated President Museveni’s outright denial of assistance from Sachs. He specifically noted “no political cohesion” as a reason why Sachs’ policies would not work in Uganda, and further, many similar countries and situations in Africa. De Soto mirrors this perception, giving an example of a 1924 Peruvian case where trying to “protect” the native peoples from elitist schemes to gain their land actually resulted in the native peoples losing the fundamental mechanisms to generate capital (177, 2001). Further, it’s noted that “economists like Sachs tend to approach development with a set of assumptions that are ‘breathtakingly ethnocentric and empirically incorrect’…blinded by an ‘inherently optimistic’ Western view of modernization, they begin with the premise that there is one path to economic growth-their own” (204, 2013). The idea that because a policy worked in one country, it should therefore work in another, is an unfortunate assumption that is distinctive to Western and Western-educated theorists and organizations alike. Unfortunately, Sachs idealistic theories align with this criticism of using Western economic models to solve problems in non-Western societies.
Hernando De Soto mirrors this complication in his work “The Mystery of Capital”, stating “when [their] remedies fail, Westerners all too often respond not by questioning the adequacy of the remedies but by blaming Third World peoples for their lack of entrepreneurial spirit or market orientation” (4, 2001). There is a general absence of a preliminary comprehensive analysis of legal and extralegal sectors already in effect, as well as disregard for a lack of functional property rights and possible legal failure. De Soto confirms that the entrepreneurial spirit is well alive in developing nations; it simply exists outside of formal property rights systems. He explains that the problem that “keeps the rest of the world from benefitting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital…it is the lifeblood of capitalist system” (5, 2001). This is due to the lack of formal property rights systems; as such, this system itself is the foundation for a successful capitalist economy. De Soto explains of developing nations and capital:
“[T]hey hold these resources in defective forms: houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them. Because the right to these possessions are not adequately documented, these assets cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan and cannot be used as a share against investment” ().
As illustrated by this quote from De Soto, an example of where the lack of a property rights system led to failure of development is in Dertu, when government land surveyors were “chased out of town” due to a lack of land titles (199, 2013). The villagers claimed that the village was theirs first and the government had no right to impose its own agenda on them (199, 2013). Those in the country wanting development realized that “without a formal government survey, there could be no land titles or property rights, and without land titles or property rights, nothing of permanence could be built in Dertu” (199, 2013). Even simply building one’s own home posed risk, as “someone could come along and say to you, ‘my camels used to graze here- this is my land, remove the house” (199, 2013). Without formal property rights, nothing of permanence could be constructed; the lack of formal property rights also affects the ability of people to start their own businesses, or use assets as collateral when trying to gain property or other capital. Thus, economic development is much more problematic. (Maybe you could link this to your above paragraph about political corruption/structure failure and lack of legality going hand in hand)
Munk reports a situation in which the Millennium Villages Project left no structure in attempt to mitigate factors that may affect the success of the project. When David Siriri, Ph.D. in agroforestry, was hired to launch the Millennium Villages Project in Ruhiira, he was concerned when he realized that “the project was not well defined. The objectives of the project were clear- what was less clear was how to achieve those objectives” (121, 2013). Though educated and familiar with local legal conditions himself, Siriri was unable to account for all the factors hindering implementation of a development model. This illustrates the necessity of creating a step-by-step model to spur economic growth in developing nations. Because we are now aware that directly implementing Western economic models will be largely unsuccessful, one may question where to locate this step-by-step model to extend property rights systems into societies that are unfamiliar with legal formalities. It is here where one might choose to look at how indigenous groups were able to achieve some level of growth and political and economic sovereignty within developed nations. The effects of colonization and dependency in many indigenous groups parallel the effects of the colonization in African nations.
Sachs eventually realized that “a model in which the end of poverty depended on foreign aid” would not suffice (142, 2013). This realization comes after De Soto explained “the twenty-five developed nations of the world have prospered so much more than those without their kind of accessible, integrated formal property systems that today no one would seriously propose economic solutions that disregarded the need for formal property” (175, 2001). Rather than focus on aid, it is more logical to focus on assisting developing nations in realizing the potential of their capital; a sentiment emulated not only by De Soto, but by Dambisa Moyo, who explains “sometimes the most generous thing you can do is just say no” (Munk Debates, 2009). This is because developing nations aren’t as poor as often perceived; to put it into perspective, De Soto says that by increasing the United States’ foreign aid budget to the recommended level, “…it would take the richest country on earth 150 years to transfer to the world’s poor resources equal to those they already possess” (175, 2001). It is Sachs’ realization that simply giving through charity, without requirements to spur self-sufficiency, initiated his movement away from lobbying prominent international development organizations for donations, and instead approached investors for local execution of business plans (142, 2013). The goal of this was to create continuously rising income and implant capital into the local economy. This included the idea of loans instead of “free” money through charity, as the having to repay a loan could mitigate some of the negative effects of aid.
Unfortunately, this idea led to problems in locating and training potential local entrepreneurs, as well as issues surrounding the implementation of local businesses where natural causes or thieves could destroy the capital, or where “running a business” was not intuitive (179, 2013). The necessity of returning loans was not fully understood nor complied with in the face of scarcity; this returns us to the problem of inability to use capital as collateral in current conditions as a result of inexistent property rights. An example of a combination of possible complications in implementing loans in areas where property rights are not widely understood is illustrated in details of the Millennium Villages Project’s failed agricultural program. It “acknowledged that in Mbola ‘a number of factors’ including ‘the variability of rains and a grasshopper infestation’ had led to ‘lower than expected’ repayment rates. Another report mentioned ‘several challenges’…’the task of introducing a universal access credit system proved significant” (179, 2013). This also illustrates where Sachs’ assumptions differ from De Soto’s- Sachs concerned himself with teaching villagers how to run a business and moving forward without full property rights, whereas De Soto highly regards the “entrepreneurial spirit” of those involved in the extralegal sector, and points to deep legal failures as the problem. (expand… really good point…how extralegal have their own system of entrepreneurship which is different from Sach’s western-centric notion of what it means… which then goes back to Munk’s observation of Sachs disregard) When Sachs implemented the Millennium Villages Project, his “observations on the ground were necessarily limited- by the pressures of time, language, culture, education, background, preconceptions, and ingrained models of thought” (204, 2013). Though progress had been seen in African villages, “the villages had serious, deep-rooted problems, problems that for one reason or another Sachs refused to acknowledge” (204, 2013). He said to Munk “this is not meant to be a command-and-control project, so I’m glad to hear I don’t know everything happening in the field”; Munk “suspected, however, that Sachs didn’t really want to know what was going on in his villages” (204, 2013). Even with this, Sachs stood by the successes of his Millennium project, stating “if three hundred million bed nets are distributed, that’s what I call scaling up; if a dozen countries adopt agricultural programs to help their small-hold farmers, that’s what I call scaling up. If the concept of integrated, rural development becomes second nature across a lot of the development community, that’s what I call scaling up” (219, 2013). He furthered this by stating that he isn’t personally completing these goals; his “goal is to help propagate methods, tools, and ideas- and to show how things can be done” (219, 2013). Though some dismissed his project, “one after another, reports from UNICEF, the World Bank, and the IMF confirmed that the lives of Africans were slowly improving” (215, 2013). Still, it was no solution to extreme poverty, and many failures had occurred along the way; in addition to this, there was no way to analyze the outcome of the Millennium projects due to unreliable data (215, 2013). (I can’t remember who… but I think Easterly he criticizes the whole bed nets thing… maybe you want to add that in?) Where Sachs’ work can’t be too harshly reproved, however, is through the lessons gained as a result of the successes and failures of the Millennium Villages Project. Though Sachs fails to recognize the effects of political institutions on economic development, other works are similarly incomplete. For example, Acemoglu and Robinson fail to suggest practical ways to implement foreign aid without it being squandered by the corrupt or failing political institutions already in place. They don’t specifically illustrate how to “fix” these extractive political institutions, and as such, (<<really good!)Sachs’ work is not less practical- one may argue that his work is holds value on this front, because we are able to understand that even with 100% commitment to the idea of charity (an idealistic quality that often doesn’t represent mainstream approaches to donations)\, foreign development aid won’t work with poor political conditions. Acemoglu and Robinson do not illustrate the specific factors that make up a truly “inclusive” political institution, nor how these factors interact with one another, nor specifically how they might lead to economic growth, nor how to install inclusive institutions in nations that could use it (Fukuyama, 2012). Though they pinpoint the problem, they do not suggest a solution. (Ties in with the Easterly article!) Sachs’ realization of the depth of the interconnectedness of the world’s issues suggested “an overwhelming number of urgent and overlapping economic, environmental, and social threats” (230, 2013). He connected this with the failure of development aid by explaining “the world’s problems were so interconnected that it was no longer possible to focus solely on poverty, hunger, and disease in Africa. For a long time, I wanted to simplify the problems by putting aside the rich world’s issues and so forth and focusing on extreme poverty. But it’s all interconnected” (230, 2013). Sachs’ work in foreign aid development acted as a practical, real-life illustration of the importance of trying to solve problems, even if seemingly small returns for high cost. Sachs holds both developed and developing nations accountable for the success or failure of foreign development aid efforts and the potential to end extreme poverty. He repeated “either you decide you save lives, or you decide to leave them to die” (223, 2013), taking away the ability of both people and organizations to step back because of a fear of failure as a result of incomplete plans. He illustrated that the urgency of the matter of extreme poverty does not leave time to devise a perfect aid plan; especially in Africa, where the nature of current conditions may not allow for a perfect plan.
Though Sachs had often oversimplified and disconnected problems in development aid, his realization that “Africa is chaotic and messy and unpredictable” is a sentiment that cannot be ignored going into further development efforts. He followed this by stating “you can have a firm conviction even in an uncertain world- it’s the best you can do, actually- and that is the nature of my conviction. I don’t feel it’s worth asking if this is the best of the best-it’s the best we can do with what we have” (232, 2013).
*****burnside and dollar!!!!!! still invest in these countries with poor policies (counter argument for 366 book review at end) can get better policies by fixing political processes etc.

General Comments * Your essay gets super super interesting from page 5 onwards… so if you’re going to cut, do it before page 5! * He brought up indigenous rights and internal colonization of Canada and linked it with De Soto’s book in class just now??! So maybe you should add that…

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