Monday, October 04, 2010

Jeffrey Sachs is off his rocker

Among economists, particularly development economists, Jeffrey Sachs is a big deal. Sachs has had profiles of him in Time (penned by Bono) and Vanity Fair and went on a jaunt through Africa with Angelina Jolie. I can still remember a grad school professor of mine gushing in class over the fact she was able to talk to him at an economics conference. A guy who made his name promoting economic reform in Eastern Europe and Russia after the end of the Cold War, he now spends his time writing about the environment and health issues in addition to development.

Oh, and somewhere along the way he turned into a left-wing loon, at least if this recent column is any indication. Titled "America's Deepening Moral Crisis," it's a rant which equates expanded government with compassion that is equal parts hysterical, absurd and dishonest.

Some excerpts:
...the rich claim that they have no responsibility to the rest of society.
Strawman. Seriously, who has said this? Who has said anything even remotely similar to this? In fact, we can tell through the actions of the rich that this isn't true, with the well-off in the US more generous with their money than the rich in the UK. That shouldn't be a surprise, given that Americans as a whole give much more to charity than the Canadians and Brits -- and absolutely blow away the French. Strangely, I suspect Sachs would label those other countries -- given their penchant for big government (although Canada increasingly less so in this regard) -- more compassionate societies. Who knows, maybe Sachs is just talking about rich liberals.
[The rich] refuse to come to the aid of the destitute...
Again, self-evidently not true given their charitable contributions. Why does Sachs resort to such blatant lies?
Almost everybody complains, almost everybody aggressively defends their own narrow and short-term interests, and almost everybody abandons any pretense of looking ahead or addressing the needs of others.
An apt description of those who kick and scream over even proposed talk about cuts in government spending.
Americans seem to believe that they have a natural right to government services without paying taxes.
Yet more tilting at strawmen. Who is saying this? Who thinks that we shouldn't pay any taxes? Can even one quote be produced to support such a statement? An incredible level of dishonesty by Sachs.
In the American political lexicon, taxes are defined as a denial of liberty.
That's because it's true. The definition of liberty is the state of being free and the power to do as one pleases. The more money I am obligated to give to the government the less money I have, and thus the less stuff I can do. A rich person enjoys greater freedoms than a poor person. You don't even have to be a screaming right-winger to believe this -- this is why Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winning development economist, entitled one of his books Development as Freedom.
Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960’s reflected an era of national optimism and the belief that society should make collective efforts to solve common problems, such as poverty, pollution, and health care.
Remind me how that worked out again? The poverty rate stopped its long decline within 5 years of Johnson's launch of the war on poverty, welfare has been a disaster that was somewhat ameliorated with its partial repeal in the mid-90s and Medicare is rife with fraud and is on track to bankrupt the country.
For 40 years, compassion in politics receded. Ronald Reagan gained popularity by cutting social benefits for the poor (claiming that the poor cheated to receive extra payments). Bill Clinton continued those cuts in the 1990’s. Today, no politician even dares to mention help for poor people.
And those cuts have been almost universally acknowledged as a success, corresponding with improvements in various social indicators. But perhaps Sachs is more interested in intentions than outcomes, which is particularly sad for a trained economist,
The result of all of this is likely to be a long-term decline of US power and prosperity, because Americans no longer invest collectively in their common future.
In the statist lexicon, "investing" money is a synonym for government spending, and my goodness, is a lack of it really the problem given our trillion dollar plus deficits? The first trillion dollar federal budget didn't happen until the 1980s, and less than 30 years later we are already at over $3.5 trillion. What planet is this guy living on?
The world should beware. Unless we break the ugly trends of big money in politics and rampant consumerism, we risk winning economic productivity at the price of our humanity.
Perhaps the most the most absurd part of his entire tirade which sets up a false tension between economic production and humanity. In fact, time after time we find that wealthy societies are also tolerant societies. Material gain corresponds with higher levels of compassion and understanding as Brink Lindsey so well documented in his most recent book. It is the poor areas of the world where we tend to find the most tribalism and intolerant attitudes. Why so many people think it is virtuous to be poor is beyond me.

If this column is representative of the advice Sachs dispenses to developing countries -- that increases in government spending is the path to prosperity and that development promotes the basest instincts of mankind -- then they are being poorly served indeed.

No comments: