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Professor Sachs Fails in Africa, Now Advocates World De-Carbonization

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By Walter Donway

February 22, 2019

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We can learn something from Columbia University professor of economics Jeffrey Sachs. Today, he made headlines in “Market Watch,” the online publication linked with the Wall Street Journal, with a comment that there are “very few” individuals left who still doubt climate change because evidence of its impact is clear. He made the statement while in Cypress advising its president about regional cooperation for climate change.

Almost certainly this “argument,” which comes close to being the logical fallacy of the “bandwagon effect” (time to agree, everyone else already does), now heads the global-warming propaganda hit parade. Sachs added a few comments on melting Greenland and Antarctic ice and how affordable solar and wind energy have become.

I will not go into those arguments, here; recent articles in “Savvy Street” have not only shown their weaknesses, but introduced one prominent scientist after another who does “doubt”: Judith Curry, Ph.D., is a recent example, as is the legendary astrophysicist, Freeman Dyson.

No, what a brief look at Prof. Sachs can illuminate is one prominent profile of the type of intellectual who tries to justify something approaching global government economic dictatorship (example: Green New Deal) by reference to impending “catastrophic climate change.”

Prof. Sachs is “big.” No other term quite captures his presence as a globalist economist. Academic prodigy, Harvard professor at age 28, advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev and other early post-Soviet leaders, advisor to Poland’s post-communist government, and, in recent years, something close to United Nations czar for “sustainable development” (with titles too numerous to list, here): For Prof. Sachs, economics is the discipline that plans global economic change.

In 1995, he became wholeheartedly committed to eradicating global poverty, coupling that goal with “environmental sustainability”—and soon picking up on the new “climate catastrophe” craze. He published “The End of Poverty” in 2005, becoming a kind of celebrity by arguing that extreme poverty could be eradicated from Africa by 2025. (Does the sweeping goal, combined with the precise date, ring a bell?) Just increase aid from $65 billion in 2002 to $195 billion a year by 2015. Geography and climate were the keys.

Prof. Sachs has the clout to make things happen. The Millennium Villages Project was launched in 2006. By the end of the year, it included 12 villages in extreme poverty in 10 sub-Saharan countries. He raised millions, including from George Soros (but I didn’t have to tell you that) and foundations and aid agencies. In five years, the villages would be out of poverty.

He and other economists in New York City wrote a 147-page, single-spaced “Millennium Villages Handbook” to tell the African villagers and the project directors hired to run them how to do it.

This millennial vision might have elevated Prof. Sachs from celebrated nation-saver to world-saver had it not been for a young reporter, Nina Munk, who attached herself to the project for the entire five years—including long stints in some of the African villages. She came to record the unfolding triumph and the role of (as many villagers called Sachs) “the Great Professor,” but ended up writing the altogether un-utopian bestseller “The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty” (Doubleday, 2013).

The poverty did not end, the villages did not become sustainable, the money provided better health care, food, and education—while the money lasted.

No one now, including Prof. Sachs, views the experiment as the predicted success. The money flowed in. The directives in the “Handbook” were implemented by passionately committed academics recruited to each village. But, Nina Munk reported, with boots-on-the-ground credibility, the poverty did not end, the villages did not become sustainable, the money provided better health care, food, and education—while the money lasted.

In an interview about the book, Ms. Munk described the situation at the end of the five years. Referring to the Kenyan village of Dertu, she said: “They were now living really in a kind of squalor that I hadn’t seen on my first visit. The huts were jammed together; they were patched with those horrible polyurethane bags that one sees all over Africa. There were streams of slop that were going down between these tightly packed huts. And the latrines had overflowed or were clogged. And no one was able to agree on whose job it was to maintain them.”

The pattern was that of hundreds of billions of dollars in “foreign aid” poured into Africa starting in the 1950s and leaving it no better off.

Widely reviewed by academics, development specialists, and others hardly ideologically hostile to Prof. Sachs, the book’s lesson was that this was (yet another) attempt at top-down imposition of central economic planning, turning the villagers, and certainly the directors, into bureaucrats. Reviewers observed that, come to think of it, the pattern was that of hundreds of billions of dollars in “foreign aid” poured into Africa starting in the 1950s and leaving it no better off.

Prof. Sachs notably had promised not only success, but “sustainability.” A memo circulated to his staff said: “When the five-year funding stops, the [Millennial Villages] should be able to continue their economic progress without a loss of momentum, a drop in living standards, or a decline in social services.” (Would that be something like when we have ditched the fossil-fuel industry and converted the whole world to wind and solar power?)

As suggested by his recent comments on global warming, Prof. Sachs does not take critics seriously. When Ms. Munk cited to him critiques of his work by other economists (turns out, looking back, the Russia plan didn’t work),  Prof. Sachs snapped: “I don’t think they’re on target, I don’t think they’re good science, and I don’t think they’re apropos.”

He was lobbying for appointment as head of the World Bank. He is a founder of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.

Most commentators, including Ms. Munk, credit Prof. Sachs with the best of intentions, deep commitment to Africa, and extraordinary energy. No sooner had the Millennium Villages project lost momentum than he was lobbying for appointment as head of the World Bank. He is a founder of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project. He is a buddy of Hollywood stars devoted to global schemes such as “decarbonization.”

Good luck trying to tell him that government-dictated plans for replacing the entire energy infrastructure—from coal mine to kitchen, as demanded by the Green New Deal—are going to make salvation of a dozen African villages look like playing in a sandbox. Or that, as it turns out, similar African villages, in the same period, without the “plan,” improved enormously (sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest growing economic areas in the world).

Or that, yeah, there are more than a few scientists who “doubt climate change”—in any case a typically misleading characterization of opponents of the “catastrophic climate change” hypothesis.

 

 

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