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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s