The founder of the Millenium Villages Project espouses a geographically deterministic view of African conflict.
Is it really so horrible if Jeffrey Sachs might be the world's most important economist? The possibility was raised when CNN anchor Isha Sesay introduced the bestselling author and Columbia University professor during a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution's African Growth Initiative (an event in which Atlantic contributor and Morehouse College professor Laura Seay also participated). Sachs, unlike so many economists who are also high-profile public intellectuals, isn't a doom-and-gloom type. As head of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), he is the driving force behind a U.N.-affiliated program aimed at making millions of people's lives better. He has succeeded in bringing development economics to a broad popular audience -- and, through his relationships with world leaders and bilateral institutions, in making development a highly-visible plank of the international community's agenda. Compared to say, Paul Krugman, Sachs is an uplifting figure.
But the Brookings event was a reminder of the great man's myriad blind spots. Last summer's controversy over an MVP-authored paper in The Lancet, which made the now-debunked claim that the program was successful at lowering infant mortality rates, raised questions about the academic rigor of the project's self-monitoring -- which quickly morphed into questions about whether Sachs's concept of "integrated rural development" even worked at all. Sachs's problems go beyond just methodology. At Brookings, he revealed how his view towards development filters out one of the most difficult issues in the field: the relationship between lasting improvements in quality of life, and effective and representative governance.