Economist Sachs wins James Madison award
Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia, Sachs is also a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a leading advocate for the eight Millennium Development Goals aimed at reducing extreme poverty, hunger and disease by 2015.
Before accepting the prize, Sachs spoke about the current economic crisis and advocated for a fundamental shift in the way people approach their social responsibilities, rather than a quick fix.
Sachs emphasized the importance of universities and students in bringing about this change.
“I think solutions need to come from the world of great universities, or they’re not going to come at all,” Sachs said. He added that the interdisciplinary nature of the current global problems gave universities a “unique responsibility in the way we’re going to see our way through this.”
Sachs said that the current “megacrises” stem from a belief that took hold in America in the 1980s, that “what we have got to do is let the markets rip — the rest will take care of itself.”
Markets may provide poor people with some low-wage jobs, but “actually people can be so poor that what markets really are designed to do is ignore them,” he said.
Sachs said that since 1980 he has seen the country move from the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s to a “War on the Poor” in which the country has ignored its responsibility to the poor.
Development aid was cut dramatically in the 1990s, and in the same decade, not a single AIDS patient living in a poor country was treated in a governmentally sanctioned manner with anti-retroviral medication, Sachs said. Even today, “not one penny” of the government’s bailout package has gone to the poor, he added.
Across the world, one billion people struggle to survive each day, and another billion live in slums in the most miserable of conditions imaginable, Sachs explained, adding that this third of the world’s population is almost never mentioned, even by President Obama, whom Sachs lauded as one of the best presidents in decades.
Coupled with severe overcrowding on the planet, a lack of social and ecological responsibility is a recipe for disaster, Sachs said.
Current approaches to solving the economic problems, often aggravated by a changing climate, rely on political or even military actions, he added. “No one says we should solve it through development or economic management … so that we can get at the real crux of the problem.”
Creating that economic push will almost certainly involve higher taxes, he noted, calling Obama’s plan to raise taxes for only 5 percent of the population “mythology.” “It is absolutely no way to solve these basic problems.”
Wall Street’s recent history of funding yachts and fifth homes through billions in bonuses is “pure social trash,” he continued. “We haven’t heard one peep from Wall Street of recognized responsibility.”
Though current plans may bring the stock market back or stop a job collapse, Sachs said that “what we need is an economic response that actually changes the way that business, government … [and] civil society interact to solve problems.”
Whig-Clio officers lauded Sachs’ achievements, noting that he embodied all the characteristics of the Madison award.
“We simply could not overlook [Sachs’] transformational career of public service and academia,” Whig-Clio president Ben Weisman ’11 said. He cited Sachs’ work creating a practical plan for realizing the Millennium Development Goals, revitalizing the discussion about public health and promoting the control of infectious diseases in order to break the poverty trap. Weisman is also the director of national sales and development for The Daily Princetonian.
“Sachs is a man who’s devoted a lot of his life to changing at least a small portion of human events,” Whig-Clio vice-president Zayn Siddique ’11 said. Siddique is also a member of the ‘Prince’ Editorial Board.
Sachs’ message was a noble one, Bryan Locascio ’11 said, but its practicality is debatable.
“I’m unconvinced of the power of just these spurts, these plans, these institutes to do anything,” Locascio said, citing the Millennium Development Goals, which he said will almost certainly not be met by 2015. “In terms of getting things done, you wonder if the root of these problems is economic.”