What’s Happened to Jeffrey Sachs?

If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Jeff Sachs, please read up. He’s a top development economist and expert on the developing world, author of many fine books such as the End of Poverty, and currently teaching at Colombia University. He may even be a contender for the Nobel Prize in Economics at some point in the future. So I write this post not out of lack of respect, but in hopes of beginning a productive or at least illuminating conversation.

Prof Sachs recently wrote this scathing article about Hillary Clinton, “Hillary is the Candidate of the War Machine.” What is so striking about this article is not his position (which is an accurate if blunt interpretation of Hillary’s policies), but that it is so poorly written. Even for Huffington Post, a more colloquial form of writing, it is not really appropriate. For someone who’s produced quality academic and rigorous work, and best-selling books, the article is disappointing.

Format aside, his critique of Hillary is not sophisticated or nuanced. Instead Sachs uses typical liberal/progressive/leftist rhetoric in such a way that it loses its meaning. For example, “…the candidate of the military-industrial complex,” with no explanation or definition is hardly convincing to the average American voter. Sachs paints broad brush strokes and the content is presented as if he typed it up quickly and just sent it off, perhaps on a red-eye flight to or from a conference.

And, to be fair, that’s very well what may have happened.

I’ve followed Sachs’ career for a couple years now. I’ve read much of his written work, listened to numerous interviews and podcasts, and have heard him speak in person. And each time, his tone, animation, and jargon become harsher. A few choice (and admittedly out of context) quotations from the presentation I attended on SDGs he referred to a couple groups including hedge fund guys and certain newspapers as, “completely ignorant,” “out to pick your pockets,”and “unbelievably stupid.”

So fast-forward to Sachs’ new article for Huff-Post, and I have to ask: What has happened? Is it just his overwhelming workload as the constant champion of the poor? Maybe the answer lies more in that after years of such leadership, he’s become jaded. His long and fairly prestigious career has been a near-constant battle to get people caring enough about poverty to give money (usually through his development projects).

The fight against poverty is not easy, nor usually rewarding. Sure, progress has been made, but for every significant advancement comes a new set of problems (climate change, inequality, etc.) and we haven’t even finished addressing the previous ones (hunger, gender equity, etc.) So I can understand Prof Sachs attitude and response at this point.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe his words in the Huff-Post article will be engendering any sort of reevaluation or change on the part of Hillary supporters. Even I, one who has many issues with Hillary and would much prefer Bernie to win the primaries, am put off by his article.

I believe the conclusion here is to never forget to speak to your audience. It’s not enough to vent feelings or even truths. It is far more important to use language and concepts that can reach the people whose minds you’re trying to convince. But I suppose, despite Sachs’ failure to do so, I’m still sitting here and thinking deeply about his article. And that’s a good thing.

Yes, Obama Was Right to Visit the Mosque.

The President of the United States’ visit has stirred up outcry for a couple of reasons. Some say the mosque has “controversial ties” to people with connections as sinister as Al-Qaeda. I’d like to take on a different issue, one that the New York Times opined here.

The Muslim female authors of the NYT piece argue that the President should have taken a more proactive stance in gender rights and call for an end to sex segregation in mosques. They critique the president for not taking the opportunity to call out gender inequality, segregation, and patriarchal authority in American mosques, but I disagree with their criticism.

First, Obama was on a very particular mission to call for an end to Islamophobia and the bigoted rhetoric so recently finding strength in America. He was there to extend an olive branch as Commander-in-Chief and to alleviate fears on both sides of the (culturally constructed) fence.

Second, Obama was welcomed into another section of religious society of which he, as a Christian American, is not a member. As long as there are still great inequalities and abuse in Christian circles of America, Obama must walk a fine line when pointing fingers. I’m not saying he should not fight for women’s rights in a religious context, but if he did so it would have to be a universal call across all religions, not a particular attack solely on a religion of which he is not even a part.

Obama should address gender inequality and women’s rights concerns caused by religious adherence, but his visit to the mosque was neither the time nor place.

Old People Should Like Bernie, too.

While most of Bernie’s votes are coming from the younger half of voters, this narrative needs to change. Transcending generational differences is an absolute must for Bernie’s campaign that needs older voter support, not just in primaries but in the general election when it comes around. It is important to emphasize the aspect that makes Bernie so popular in the first place: his push for equality on all fronts of society, economics, and politics. In fact, his policies should better provide for senior citizens’ healthcare and financial needs, the “cradle the grave” policies.

My first hand experience with the old people for Bernie (I say that affectionately, as a future old and hopefully wiser person) was a local volunteer event near my college, where the majority of volunteers for Bernie’s campaign were actually over the age of 45. While I don’t doubt that the Atlantic and other articles are correct, my personal experience suggests that this age “chasm” does not need to persist. Bernie’s views are perfectly compatible with the older generations’ concerns and needs. Nothing is preventing his campaign from galvanizing this demographic.

Critics of Bernie’s campaign often question his elect-ability, but surely the results of the Iowa caucus prove otherwise. If you like Bernie but are having some doubts, check out this fun and informative website.

 

Kind regards for your week, and happy primary season (just kidding),

NCB

 

 

Hello, world!

“Hello, world! Here I am!”

I stole this catchphrase from a great friend of mine, but it is appropriate because he’s the very person who invited me to write on this blog. This is my introduction post. I am here to tell you a bit more about what my interests are and what you can expect to read from me in the future.

My academic focus is on development economics and foreign policy. I’ve written a published thesis on foreign aid and plan on continuing my research and education through a phd program. I’ve traveled across the world competing for a U.S. sports team. I’ve interned with grassroots NGOs. I feel strongly about social issues, especially those that disproportionately affect women in both the first and third worlds. I may be the most passionate economist (in training) you have come across!

Have I sparked your interest?

 

Until next time,

NCB