The Idealist

Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty

[Amazon Link]

Another book I put on my to-read list years ago, and only just now got around to. Thanks to the UNH Interlibrary Loan folks for getting it from Boston College; boo to whatever BC student (or, who knows, faculty member) who underlined, starred, dog-eared, and in one instance dropped an F-bomb in the margin.

They feel strongly about African poverty at BC, I guess.

Anyway, the author is Vanity Fair editor Nina Munk, who embedded herself with the efforts of superstar economist Jeffrey Sachs to alleviate poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. It was a massive project, diverting millions of dollars in private/public aid to so-called "Millennium Villages" in order to bootstrap them out of their grinding poverty and into a new era of (at least relative) prosperity.

And… it didn't work. Or at least not as originally envisioned. You can't drop piles of money into an area and not see some important changes. But the poor are still poor, eking out a pastoral existence, subject to the whims of climate, corrupt government, and local criminals.

As Munk sketches out, Sachs had impeccable credentials and the best of intentions. And he wasn't above bullying donors into supporting his efforts, essentially telling them that if they didn't shell out, they were condemning millions of Africans to remain in miserable poverty. He seems to be one of those folks, like Steve Jobs or Elizabeth Holmes who could create a Reality Distortion Field while explicating their vision. (As far as fraudulence goes, Sachs lies somewhere in the middle of the Jobs-Holmes spectrum.)

Hubris was also maxed out in Sachs's case. Grand plans were conceived, only to bump into mundane reality much later. For example, let's get those African farmers to produce banana flour! Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a market for banana flour…

Sachs also butted his head against the local culture. As Deirdre McCloskey has pointed out tirelessly, capitalism (she says "trade-tested betterment") can work wonders in a culture whose values are compatible with it. Time and again, the villagers who Sachs was trying to help … demonstrated that those values were not that important to them.

URLs du Jour

2019-10-10

[Amazon Link]

A shorter-than-usual post, and also a later-than-usual post. Apologies to whoever this inconveniences. Although I can't imagine that set is other than null.

  • I am a sucker for these data-driven articles, and this one is more amusing (in the schadenfreudian sense) than average: Business Insider tabulates The 50 most miserable cities in the US, based on census data. Highlights:

    • The most miserable city in the US is Gary, Indiana.
    • The state with the most miserable cities is California, with 10. New Jersey is close behind, with nine, and Florida comes in third, with six.
    • These cities have things in common — few opportunities, devastation from natural disasters, high crime and addiction rates, and often many abandoned houses.

    They provide a link to the spreadsheet of the 1000 cities they used in the tabulation.

    New Hampshire comes off OK: Manchester is the #423d most miserable, with Concord at #498 and Nashua in #539.

    Herriman, Utah seems to be least miserable (#997). It's a suburb of Salt Lake City, which is a relatively gloomy #572 (still better than Nashua).


  • At City Journal, Steven Malanga uses the Business Insider article as a springboard to unload on… NJ Scores Heavily on a Recent Survey of States with the Bleakest Cities..

    Last week, Business Insider created a stir when it used demographic data to rank the 50 “most miserable” cities in America. Though California led the way with ten municipalities, considerably smaller New Jersey was close behind, with nine—including Newark, Trenton, Camden, and Paterson. Why was this case? I was asked. Several days later, an answer arrived, with the news that Atlantic City’s mayor, Frank Gilliam, had resigned after pleading guilty to stealing money from a nonprofit youth basketball club he’d help start, using the money to buy designer clothes and expensive meals. Part of a long line of Atlantic City mayors pushed out of office in disgrace, Gilliam had been elected mayor two years ago—defeating incumbent reformer Don Guardian with backing from a coalition of “top Democrats, unions, online gaming companies,” and other Jersey powerbrokers who thought that “there’s still money to be made” in the currently insolvent city, as the Philadelphia Inquirer put it.

    Dishonest mayors who step down in disgrace are “A Jersey Tradition,” as a recent headline in another paper described the long, debilitating history of municipal corruption in the Garden State. There, urban political machines manufacture politicians who regularly enrich themselves at the expense of those that elect them, preferring to line their pockets instead of building—or, in the case of Jersey cities, rebuilding—communities. Sometimes they hijack local institutions, like the school system, and use them as patronage mills, ensuring that the system doesn’t do its job. Or they steal directly from residents, including some of the country’s neediest people. Cities already suffering from urban ills like deindustrialization, high crime, and drug use wind up governed by political machines with little interest in doing the hard work of revival. This status quo goes unreformed because Garden State cities are run by one party—a machine party, consisting of politically connected Democrats, government unions, businesses, and nonprofits that feed off government money. With change virtually impossible, everyone who can manage it gets out, leaving the least capable residents to fend for themselves.

    I've been to Morristown. It's nice. If you can afford to pay the taxes.


  • And I swear I'm going to do this someday, thanks to xkcd:

    [Aw.]

    Mouseover: "We've met! I remember you when you were thiiiis tall! [*holds a hand an inch above their head*]"