Monday, March 17, 2008

Jeffrey Sachs new book - a book for Pope and Bono?

Tyler Cowen reviews Sachs book in a paragraph;

It promotes resource pessimism, Nordic-style social democracy, foreign aid, and a fundamental rethinking of U.S. foreign policy. Most of all it expresses a faith in global cooperation. Sachs is very smart and, though I do not agree with him, there is often more to his views than his critics admit. But my browsing of this book never gave me the feeling that I had access to the mind of Jeffrey Sachs. It doesn't even read like a popularization. Imagine a smart and diligent but not insightful or self-reflective person doing a "color by numbers" version of what a Jeffrey Sachs book should read like.

More interesting read Chris Blattman's comment on the post;

To Marxist thinkers, there is the vulgar Marx of the Communist Manifesto, and the real, more subtle Marx of the Eighteenth Brumaire. Perhaps Cowen is right, and Common Wealth is simply the vulgar Sachs? I think so, but have never been sure.

In graduate school I spent a semester as his TA for a course on development--one that preceded The End of Poverty by a couple of years. We saw a slightly more subtle view in lectures, and I saw hints of much more, and I always regretted not being able to get deeper.

The meetings we had always concerned class matters, and the handful of times I thought I had time to get deeper into the lecture material, our meetings were interrupted by phone calls from the Pope and Bono.

They were for Jeff.

I guess I'll have to wait for his Eigthteenth Brumaire...

I may have ordered the book too early.


Martin Wolf on Slate;

The book is clearly and passionately argued, focused on challenges of the highest importance, infused with moral purpose, intelligent and well-informed. I agree with much of it. But agreement is boring. So I'd like to focus on five big questions it raised in my mind. I'll start with two, both about your intended audience, and then tomorrow, I'll be eager to turn to three more—about your optimism, about the prospects of collective action, and about global economic growth.

First, to whom is the book addressed? You talk of "we." But the "we" seem to be citizens of high-income countries and Americans, above all. The reason for this focus seems evident: These are the people with the resources—economic and technological—needed to tackle the challenges you address. And Americans signally fail to understand either the challenges or their role in meeting them.

Second, and far more important, why should this "we" care about the challenges you address? Demonstrably, the citizens of rich countries care little for the plight of the world's poorest. Yet two of your three big challenges—population and mass poverty—concern precisely the latter group of people. Developed countries devote less than 1 percent of their public spending to this cause. It is possible to argue that mass poverty is the breeding ground of terrorism. But the connection is far from compelling. Even in the case of climate change, the argument that this is a vast danger to the world's richest countries, including the United States, while far stronger than for poverty, is not overwhelming. So are you making a moral argument for action or an argument from self-interest?

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