CJ's Note: While we recognize that this post may not be explicitly about Claremont McKenna or the Claremont Colleges, many of the statements Sachs makes have been echoed by Bono (who recently spoke at Claremont McKenna College) and by Claremont students. (You'll also notice that CGU's Ira Jackson interviewed Sachs and therefore the Claremont connection is there.)
Sachs being Sachs, he says a lot and so this post will be very long. I apologize but I'll try to bold the important sections so you can check out of topics that don't interest you.
The statements that Sachs makes are worthy of examination and rejection. Here's why.
I was hoping that Jeffrey Sachs and Ira Jackson's conversation would be more than boilerplate left-wing criticisms of the world economy. (I've already blogged about Ira Jackson and he said very little worth discussing, excepting his dismay that the United States did not sign the flawed Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. The person introducing Jackson uncritically discussed the Massachusetts Miracle. I've written about my problems with that myth here.)
Sachs's new book, Economics for a Crowded Planet, seems like an updated Malthusian horror tale in which the only panacea is a corporatist government in which "private public partnerships" teeming with volunteers, businesses, churches, governments, universities, everyone works together. (Oh brother!)
Sachs, sensing a very uncritical audience, left me very disappointed. Fortunately, he said a lot of nutty things that kept me awake and taking notes. As Aditya promised, I'll be examining his ten things that the next president needs to do to save the world. (He didn't quite put it that way, but the implication was clear.)
Before we begin, let's talk about one of my favorite fallacies: his insistence that we could take the 700 billion we spend on the military per annum -- what Sachs calls the "offensive military budget" and spend it on saving children dying of malaria. He says uncritically that if the Pentagon took one day off, we could save the world. (What Sachs leaves unexamined is how DDT is much cheaper and could save more lives than his malarial nets ever could. Sachs encouraged all of us to spend the ten dollars to get the malarial nets to Africa. Sachs' tendency to ignore science is a common theme, as we shall soon see.)
I suppose we could do that. Then again we could also gut Medicare, Social Security, and other unnecessary social spending here at home, but Sachs isn't suggesting that. Instead he wants you to believe that the war on terrorism is a war of terrorism.
Sachs calls the attacks of 9/11 "a tragedy that misdirected us" and spoke critically of Senator McCain's declaration to fight the jihadists. Sachs says we will make a mistake "if we elect someone who believes the transcendent issue of our time is Islamic extremism or some such nonsense like that."
Sachs then discussed how the world is on a crash course with a "brick wall" or moving towards a "a cliff." (He stuck with this metaphor.) "We are literally unsustainable." He also repeated that the world's "really filling up."
He then took a swipe at those who "read the Wall Street Journal editorial page for their science." (I suppose that's much worse than watching the throughly discredited Inconvenient Truth for your science, a movie which Sachs lauds along with its hot air filmmaker, Al Gore, but alas.)
Then Sachs discussed human development since the Industrial Revolution. He then jumps a few hundred years to talk about how he believes in economic growth, but "if we simply replicate our model, it can't work actually." (Sachs makes this claim again and again, but what Sachs fails to understand is that as nations get richer they get more efficient and therefore we aren't locked into current consumption.)
He then launched into a discussion of how bad the ultra cheap Tata Nanos ($2500) are because they take up oil which will run out very quickly. By making this observation Sachs makes two errors: 1) that we should consign Indians to poverty because of some as yet unfounded global warming fears. 2) that oil is going to be gone any time soon. Isn't the whole purpose of global warming to save people from drastic conditions? Surely poverty is worse -- and real. After all, you wrote the book on how to get "rid" of it.
The criticisms of the Tato Nano have been rejected here, so I won't dwell on them. As for the oil assertion, well, I'll just leave you with this tid bit.
Proven reserves (that is, oil that can tapped and marketed today at a profit) are 15 times larger today than they were in 1948. Moreover, given present consumption levels, the Energy Information Administration reports that oil fields could last another 230 years before running dry and that unconventional petroleum sources (tar sands, shale, and the like) could meet present demands for an additional 580 years.Sachs then moved into his sensationalist China fears which seem fashionable as of late. The Chinese, Sachs said, are opening up a coal-fired plant every week. Coal is bad because it leads to global warming. (Global warming, not Islamic terrorism, is one of the transcendent issues of our day, says Sachs. Because you know the threat from global warming is far more real than pesky terrorist attacks like say, 9-11.)
Sachs suggests that we "mobilize" the public to create funds for the development of solar technology. Sachs must make this assertion because to suggest that we use proven and reliable sources of nuclear energy to meet our energy demand run afoul of his environmentalist sympathizers.
Sachs, to his credit, conceded that solar energy costs about four times what our current energy costs and he suggested that we have a Manhattan Project-like initiative. Because, he says, sunny North Africa could provide all of Europe's electricity. (You know that's a good idea, right? Giving a bunch of former colonized Muslim nations control over your energy market, right? Aren't we already doing that with oil-- and isn't it cheaper?)
Sachs then talks about the horrible problems facing the world's supply of fish. Here Sachs correctly identifies a problem -- the vanishing fish stocks -- but incorrectly prescribes a solution: the use of aqua culture and the U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty (more on that in a moment).
These two proposals are mutually exclusive because if the oceans are owned by the international community as provided by Law of the Sea Treaty [elephants and ivory?] than the national incentive to make fisheries flourish diminishes, but Sachs didn't even allude to this problem. Instead, he criticizes aqua culture as unsustainable, but better than what's currently going on. My response, "so what if they are unstainable?"
Better to privatize all of the ocean for fish farming for the simple reason of the tragedy of the commons. Moreover, it's government's inability to properly define property rights that is leading to mass extinction of species.
Jackson then asks Sachs, who is a big backer of the United Nations and who has served on numerous U.N. committees, why he believes the U.N., which is seen as feckless and corrupt, can solve all of these problems.
Sachs responds that the U.N. "is tied up in knots because the U.S. and other leading powers want it to be." He blames the Bush Administration for believing that the U.N. is "nothing but handcuffs."
(Right, because you know the U.S. was behind the largest scandal in the history of mankind, the Oil-for-Food program. What's that? It wasn't? Oh no. Next you'll tell me we were responsible for the sexual abuse of children in peacekeeping operations. What's that? We didn't do that either? Aww, nuts. What's an America hater to do?)
Sachs said that he believes "in the end what really stops us is the lack of clarity. We live in a world of spin and we still need to find low cost solutions to high cost problems."
Sachs totes his malarial nets as exhibit A, but we've already seen that D.D.T. would be far more effective, cost less, require less education, and save more lives and yet Sachs opposes it no doubt because it conflicts with international agreements, which he says we need to ratify immediately.
Sachs moved into a criticism of free markets, which he says "have to be directed the right way." Yep, that's from a tenured professor economics.
Finally, he ended his discussion with talking about the importance of plug in hybrids. Sachs says that that might be one of the solutions to our energy problems. In fact, plug in hybrids may actually lead to more air pollution.