Jeffrey D. Sachs, the U.N.’s Biased Point Person on MDGs

I am not a “development expert.” In my pamphlet A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores, I try to keep somewhat of an open mind about the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In the optional pre-pamphlet reading assignment, I cite different viewpoints. While I reference strong socialist criticism, I also recognize that the issues are complicated.

It is good to bring attention to the problems of the desperate, wherever they live, and it is good to bring help to the desperate, wherever they live. I am all for those things, and so should any compassionate person be. To the extent some of the MGDs or their proponents do those things they are doing some good. Good can come from having good goals, and even incremental good is still good.

But beyond the pure and wholesome, it seems that beneath the surface of the MGDs is a hidden and highly counter-productive capitalist agenda. Otherwise, in and of themselves, it would make little sense for an advocate of the MGDs to focus on the supposed advantages of capitalism. After all, Cuba has actually demonstrated through the MDGs a rather remarkable performance, which is hardly an endorsement of capitalism.

To be sure, the MDGs do have many serious problems in and of themselves. Among other things, they are highly inadequate and vague. They are not admitted by their most outspoken proponent to be highly inadequate and vague, but rather, the deceptive claim is made that they will, someday, somehow, some way, demonstrate that “the end of poverty” has arrived.

Why this compulsion to “puff”? I believe it is because at their core the MDGs are designed in large part to provide a warm and fuzzy comfort zone for the capitalist status quo, complete with propaganda value to the powerful, who sometimes wish to seem interested in the powerless. Now Dr. Sachs sadly proves my fear.

In my opinion, there is much wrong with the views expressed in this New York Times op-ed, The End of Poverty, Soon, by Dr. Sachs, but at least the bias of one of the MGDs’ foremost promoters is made clear. I am late and rather reluctant in discovering this bias within some of the otherwise compassionate first world development technocracy. While I am generally for all the helpful mutual aid the third world can obtain (but sometimes question specific projects that seem designed to do little for the powerless while providing a basis for large-scale engineering-centric international loans), and generally agree with Dr. Sachs’s development ideas in and of themselves, I do not believe that “the end of poverty,” soon or ever, could come through his begging and charity approach. Assuming the international aid he presupposes is obtained for a short time, this would be an unreliable small down-payment on justice and not a basis for shifting the focus away from needed deep change.

This should not be about begging and charity. The desperate need recognized and enforceable rights to have their basic needs met, now and always. Dr. Sachs’s op-ed illustrates why needed systemic change cannot come from the U.N. as it presently functions and must be forced on the U.N. and the powerful of the world from below.

The belief that the desperate should be waiting on markets and economic growth, supplemented by international charity, in order to do such things as “eat” is the subtext. How long is eating optional? It is sad that the U.N. has this biased man to advise it on such key issues. He has been giving a rosy gloss to satisfying the desires of the powerful for decades, i.e., suggesting how wonderful it will be to sell out and abandon, rather than to reform and democratize, socialism, and always without replacement with viable social safety nets. Now that this damage is done, not a word of meaningful system change in Dr. Sachs’s playbook, because his system of global neoliberalism is what we have and what he, and the powerful, want. So he continues to give opinions with the effect, if not the intent, of buying time for the powerful of the world, for whom he puffs.

Is Dr. Sachs doing anything to forcefully confront the powerful in their plundering international agreements? For instance, what about the Western Sahara, where Morocco steals phosphate ore every day to export from Africa and grow crops outside of Africa, which can then be sold back to Africans crowded into urban slums with no gainful employment and little ability to afford the imported food commodities? One idea would be to free the Western Sahara, stop this international crime, and leave the fertilizer in Africa to be used by African farmers without the rent-seeking conduit of Morocco and first world transnational companies.

What about land grabs?

The poor cannot and should not wait on the World Bank, profiteering, the miracle of the marketplace, and donations. Dilettantish attitudes masking perpetual capitalist tendencies help to drive desperate people into desperate acts, such as crime, prostitution, and terrorism, because no Dr. Sachs, eating is not optional and will not await charity. He should not be covering up for a sick capitalist world system.

Allies of the desperate should not wait on the false miracle of the marketplace and national or private collection plates to feed our brothers and sisters. Is Dr. Sachs the voice of liberation? No, his is the voice of first world arrogance, pushing the wonders of classical economics with an ameliorating sprinkle of NGO petri-dish experimentation and Keynesian pump-priming, hedge-fund donations, and financier-friendly infrastructure loans. It does not matter whether or not he believes his myths. He is in the business of constructing false hope and false fronts for exploitation and oppression through neocolonial domination.

Frantz Fanon‘s The Wretched of the Earth (1963, Grove Press, Inc., pp. 313-315) long ago much more honestly described the choice still at hand for the world’s desperate:

     Let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in a new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.

Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up to Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness, and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions.

Comrades, have we not other work to do than to create a third Europe? …

Today we are present at the stasis of Europe. Comrades, let us flee from this motionless movement where gradually dialectic is changing into the logic of equilibrium. Let us reconsider the question of mankind. Let us reconsider the question of the cerebral reality and of the cerebral mass of all humanity, whose connections must be increased, whose channels must be diversified and whose messages must be re-humanized.

Come, brothers, we have far too much work to do for us to play the game of rearguard. …

So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions, and societies which draw inspiration from her.

Humanity is waiting for something from us other than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.

Well, since Dr. Fanon wrote those words, humanity has given Dr. Sachs’s pious world view another 50 years to work its miracle. It has not worked. It is not designed to work but to produce profits. A global neoliberal system, underlain by market capitalism, resource-exporting dictatorships, and now also authoritarian state capitalism, is the cause of desperation not the solution. The powerful get richer, a few of the poor may become middle class or less poor, to be sure, but that is not success and should not be the goal for a day much less for decades or another millennium.

If, as I do, we want to avoid responses of force by the desperate, such as Dr. Fanon posited would sometimes be necessary by the repressed colonized, all peace-loving global citizens should be promoting the system change to a worldwide social contract and deep worldwide democracy, not the status quo of unbridled free trade, profiteering, land grabbing, food import dependency, single-commodity diets that at best produce the hidden hunger of micronutrient deficiency, and theoretical food “availability” but lack of economic access. If the world’s desperate are to be loved as neighbors, they have a right at the human table NOW, not at some point in the fantasized optimistic future of Mr. Sachs.

In solidarity with those who cannot wait on Dr. Sachs’s miraculous marketplaces but need all the helpful mutual aid they can get,

Brother Francisco

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