I'll put this here, because it can be very hard to access old tweets now -- you can't get them more than a month or so before today's date, and even Topsy may not have everything.
I had been meaning to post this and forget about it and was reminded again by coming across Sachs pontificating on the Millenium Development Goals again. And I was reminded again just how wonderful Armin Rosen's article was, critiquing Sach's idea about African development (see at the very end).
I don't know if this exchange needs much explanation, but just in case: I got into a debate at first with a woman about whether the US and Europe were to blame for Africa's disruption. I think this is myopic and unfair and part of that anti-Western Marxist mentality you see in Western campuses and some African political organizations -- but not all. I think it's more complex than that, and while the scourges of colonialism naturally have to be blamed, and US machinations and oil companies and all the rest, at a certain point, you have to seek personal accountability, and you can't go on forever blaming whitey and the West. That's my conviction. And when I see the kleptocrats and maniacs leading some of these countries, I stand by it. I don't think they can be fixed by adding more mosquito nets.
But regardless of what I think, this story is about how the debate gets framed. Jeffrey Sachs has long been supported intellectually and financially by George Soros. He is typical of the can-do technocratic elite figure that George loves to back as a doer and maker, not in the Silicon Valley way -- George doesn't really seem to have an affinity with Silicon Valley -- but more in the old fashioned way of scientific development approaches -- economic solutions to political problems. There's more than a little third-way social democracy, even socialism in the ideals of this billionaire, and he tends to fund the leftwing and "progressive" organizations that fit these ideals.
Some time ago, he more or less revised -- abandoned? -- his ideas of the "open society" a la Popper, and began to believe that picking the one, true, scientific "progressive" way with rationality and free will was the way to advance society -- and then give the strongest organizations that extra boost, rather than funding pluralism for pluralism's sake.
As Alex Goldfarb, a one-time aide to Soros, once put it: It's the difference between funding the entire class, and hoping that out of that class of mixed abilities will come one or two geniuses, and the rest will have benefited from all being funded or funding those one or two geniuses because they are the strongest and best and you shouldn't waste money on failures or mediocrities. (This is also described as the Athenian versus Spartan form of education).
I think arguably Soros has moved from the former to the latter belief, especially with his investments in American politics, but at any rate, Jeffrey Sachs is one of his big investments -- and by that I mean not necessarily in some literal dollar amount that Sachs may get today but more about his ideas, and advancing them either personally with Sachs, or many NGOs that will listen to Sachs and at least not criticize him.
There's almost no criticism of Sachs anywhere, and I think this is a function of the fact that there's a kind of taboo on that -- Soros grantees -- and there are a lot of them! -- don't want to fall out of favour. Even those without a direct Soros grant, say, a university, don't want to speak out of tune with the great one. This is incredible pervasive throughout the progresso-sphere -- this Partiinost' or Party discipline, and I really find it repulsive. What this interchange I had with Sachs shows is the enormous lengths he will go to -- narcistically -- to keep the adulation intact.
You would think normally someone of his magnitude wouldn't have time to come and interrupt a Twitter chat between two strangers who happen to use his handle merely to indicate they were discussing his article. But he did. He challenged my claims about the critique of his ideas for Poland and Russia -- which at the time were very controversial and caused a certain amount of dislocation. Maybe they worked better in Poland; Russia was beyond him. He doesn't answer that challenge.
But when I invoke Bill Easterly, a thoughtful writer on the great wrongs of international development, Sachs actually points me to the 22nd minute of a video (!) where on a panel, Easterly is basically forced to retract his past critique of Sachs. I marvelled at this. I couldn't understand it. Easterly had already gotten a reputation to standing up to Sachs, but then he stopped. I surmise he stopped evidently because the flak he was getting not only from Sachs' supporters and the Soros-funded "system" -- and Sachs himself! -- was going to harm his career possibly; he felt that constantly being the negative nabob, the sourpuss as the celebration of Sachs' lovely ideas was just too much hard work. Nobody wants to be negative all the time.
I had to marvel that Sachs would waste time arguing with me, a minor blogger, yet he did because the vanity and the imperative to keep the rep ever bright was so great. In the end, I made the crack that Armin must not get a Soros grant because he was able to eloquently take apart Sachs' ideas -- which truly are missing the vital component of governance and democracy.
I've told these stories many times that sum up the entire fandago that is "development" via international organizations. The first comes from a Russian human rights activist in 1995 at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, where the Soviet Union had already collapsed, but its old pupils were still demanding the erosion of civil and political rights by insisting on the primacy of economic and social rights. Vienna represented a certain truce on these two issues, but not really. One of the compromises the UN had to put up in order to get the acknowledgement of the civil and political rights out of the worst abuses in the world like Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, etc. was to create this "right to development" concept and the whole clumsy (and expensive) infrastructure that still exists today around it. The third-world countries kept yammering about how they had to have the right to development. The Western concept of this is different than the Marxist/Eastern one of course, and in the US, economic rights aren't even recognized. Finally, exasperated at this constant demand for positive rights, coming from a state that was finally at last getting out of the way of the negative rights, this dissident said, "Nu, develop already!"
And to be sure, in a certain sense, that's all you can say to people and countries asking for a big shakedown and a handout. What's stopping you from developing? Stop stealing the foreign aid and use it to help your people. Life is more complicated than that, of course, and I have come to see that in fact the international system and states have to invest in certain areas like health care and education to ensure justice in their societies in tandem with the civil liberties. This idea of balance isn't one libertarians/Randians share but in fact the rights lexicon can help these developing countries, as they are called, wrest commitments out of those autocrats. But there's more.
The other story comes from a time I brought a Tibetan scholar in with our organization to take part in this panel at which a Chinese diplomat was speaking about development. The Chinese official went on and on about how wonderfully everything was going with adding railroads or schools or whatever in places like Tibet. To which the Tibetan could only ask: who develops? Indeed. Who? The Han people deliberately flooded into the region to erode the population of Tibetans, or the Tibetan people?
Re: Benghazi I just wrote about how I thought the development approach to terrorism just wasn't working and was misleading and even dangerous -- but then, on the "democracy" side there are just as many idiocies, such as the fetishization of elections in places like Afghanistan. In any event, here it is, the rare challenge to Jeffrey Sachs, one I don't have the ability, scholarship, or funds to sustain, but one in which I hope others will take up.