Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tootin' the Sachs-o-phone

Erstwhile economist and current development messiah Jeffery Sachs is again instructing us how to solve Africa's problems.

He tells us: "Africa will be the bank's test under incoming President Robert Zoellick. If it fails there, not only Africa but the bank will be in mortal peril."

Well I am just a dumb Okie, but Africa has been the World Bank's test since McNamara was president and the BANK HAS COMPLETELY, UTTERLY, AND IRREVOCABLY FAILED the test.

I think for the overwhelming majority of the Bank employees, the mission of the bank is to continue to secure rich nation funding, employment and pay raises (note that employment and pay raises are a universally common goal of workers everywhere, I am not necessarily faulting Bank employees here at all).

Sachs rightly decries the lack of accountability for results that the World Bank has enjoyed for 60 years and counting now: Yet the bank's managers have not been held accountable. Senior bank officials actually whisper to African leaders not to dream about achieving the (millenium development) goals, since the managers don't want to be responsible for ambitious targets. They hope that the goals will just fade away.

Even after saying all that, though, Sachs seems to indicate believe that somehow by hearing the sound of his voice the Bank can magically change and become an effective tool for development. Its actually pretty easy, they just gotta get more resources and do what he says with them.

Sachs comes incredibly close to giving African governments a free pass for their plight and putting the blame squarely on one George Bush and his "free market ideologue" pals.

Seasoned practitioners not held back by ideology and posturing know how rapidly results can be achieved.


Yet when it comes to Africa, according to Washington's free-market ideologues, all those wonderful things
(infrastructure) are supposed to spring up by themselves, with markets coming to the rescue. And when those things don't arrive, since there is no way to pay for them, African governments are blamed for corruption.

Wow. I mean, WOW!! Has Africa gotten no development aid before? Haven't untold billions of dollars been sent in aid and debt relief? Is the problem of Africa really not enough aid?

One more bar: And the core problem in Africa is not corruption but the lack of basic infrastructure and services.

Isn't there possibly a connection there? Just maybe?

Look, I agree with Sachs (and I greatly admire his commitment and passion) that corruption isn't the only, or even main, problem in Africa. But it is a significant problem.

I think that more broadly "governance" is the main problem in Africa, and all the aid in the world won't fix that. The solution is ultimately internal, not external.


Anonymous said...

"The solution is ultimately internal, not external."

Yes. And an internal solution is even less likely to materialize as long as foreign aid keeps irresponsibly flowing in, and generating all sorts of perverse incentives for domestic political actors.

Lawrence H. White said...


Here's my take on the Sachs "plan":