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May 08 2013

What happened to Jeffrey Sachs?

Economist Jeffrey Sachs is professor of Health Policy and Management and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. He used to be one of your standard establishment types. As recently as 2006, he wrote a book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time that I read in which he promoted the neoliberal ideology of the policies that developing countries should adopt. He was a major player on the international scene, a widely sought-after and quoted advisor to governments, the World Bank, the IMF, and the like.

Then over the space of a few years, he seemed to go silent and disappear, and then emerged as a vehement critic of the existing order and active supporter of Occupy Wall Street. I wrote about that transition two years ago, when he wrote an op-ed piece that lambasted the US government and the Obama administration in harsher language than even I use, accusing them of having completely sold out to the oligarchy.

In a more recent talk and interview, we find out that he is still on a tear, calling out ‘Wall Street criminality and pathological greed’ and accuses both parties of complicity with them. He accuses by name Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Bill Clinton, John Paulson, and Phil Gramm of essentially engaging in fraud, of pushing for policies that enriched them personally

Why do I consider this significant? While popular unrest is important for achieving change, splits in the ranks of the elites are also needed to speed things along. When people with solid establishment credentials like Nobel prize winners Joseph Stieglitz, and Paul Krugman speak out against the corruption of the system, it gives cover to others to also speak out without feeling like outliers and risking career suicide by risking being portrayed as shrill and unserious. Jeffrey Sachs is going even further than most.

Here are some of his recent remarks.

But I meet a lot of these people on Wall Street on a regular basis right now. I’m going to put it very bluntly. I regard the moral environment as pathological. And I’m talking about the human interactions that I have. I’ve not seen anything like this, not felt it so palpably. These people are out to make billions of dollars and nothing should stop them from that. They have no responsibility to pay taxes. They have no responsibility to their clients. They have no responsibility to people, counterparties in transactions. They are tough, greedy, aggressive, and feel absolutely out of control, you know, in a quite literal sense. And they have gamed the system to a remarkable extent, and they have a docile president, a docile White House, and a docile regulatory system that absolutely can’t find its voice. It’s terrified of these companies.

If you look at the campaign contributions, which I happened to do yesterday for another purpose, the financial markets are the number one campaign contributors in the U.S. system now. We have a corrupt politics to the core, I’m afraid to say, and no party is – I mean there’s – if not both parties are up to their necks in this. This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. It really doesn’t have anything to do with right wing or left wing, by the way. The corruption is, as far as I can see, everywhere. But what it’s led to is this sense of impunity that is really stunning, and you feel it on the individual level right now, and it’s very, very unhealthy.

I don’t know what happened to Jeffrey Sachs. But I am glad that it did.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    IIRC, Sachs (v. 1, the establishmentarian) drew up the blueprints for “helping” Poland make the transition from Communism to capitalism, and was also involved in “assisting” Russia in the same way.

    Possibly witnessing the gap between promises made and how it actually worked out produced an Aha! [aka wtf?] moment.

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