To cite one example. in his 2007 Reith lecture series “Bursting at the Seams” Sachs pushes new agricultural technology and commercial fertilizers to increase yields in low-life expectancy countries. “Africa can and must have a Green Revolution as India initiated nearly forty years ago.” He celebrates increased yields and dismisses concerns about environmental damage and rising debt, claiming that “Older techniques for replenishing soil nutrients, such as the rotation of farm lands, allowing the replenishment of nutrients on land left to fallow for 10 or 20 years, are no longer feasible.” To top things off, there’s a dose of “population control” in Sachs’s mix. “The evidence is overwhelming that it’s possible and necessary to have a rapid demographic transition on a voluntary basis to greatly reduce fertility rates in poor countries,” said Sachs.
Old arguments linking high population with high poverty are back in vogue in the context of contemporary planet-panic, but really, they miss the point. While growing population in poor countries has its environmental impacts, high-level consumption lifestyles in rich countries are much more of an immediate threat. Listen the small scale farmers of countries like Mali and Burkina Faso who gathered at the World Social Forum in Kenya a few years back and they report that traditional farming techniques like fortifying soil with manure and mixing the crops grown on the same piece of land are rehabilitating degraded farms and farmers, both. Lying fallow for a generation doesn’t come up.
It’s here that one sees the “old” Sachs in the new. To return to Ellerman– the analysts of “shock therapy” have long gotten it wrong, he writes in an essay, Lessons from Eastern Europe’s Voucher Privatization. In the post-Soviet states, the crucial distinction wasn’t so much between the fast-shockers and the incrementalists, rather, Ellerman points out, “Reform-mongers, in their strategies and even more so in their rhetoric, could be divided into those who take an ideological, fundamental, and root-and-branch approach versus those who take an incremental, piecemeal, home-grown, and adaptive approach.” From what he says now about global agribusiness it seems that not much has changed in Sachs’s approach to the adaptive, home-grown initiative — even as the sane world is increasingly convinced that those are the only strategies with any chance of heading the planet in a healthier direction.
The fact that he’s campaigning for the World Bank job as the candidate of the new regime makes all this particularly hard to take. Since Paul Wolfowitz resigned under a cloud in 2007, new rules at the World Bank are finally permitting countries than the US and Europe to determine who heads the world’s financial institutions (since world war two it’s been the World Bank for the US, and a European at the IMF). Europe nominated Christine Lagarde for IMF president last year. She won over other candidates. For the World Bank post, the U.S. has quietly floated names like Susan Rice, John Kerry and Larry Summers to replace Robert Zoellick when he steps down June 30. Predicting he won’t be the US’s official pick, Sachs has gotten seven countries to endorse him, including Haiti, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia and east Timor.
By March 23, we’ll know how all this plays out. Meanwhile, according to the open-source website, WorldBankPresident.org which is tracking these developments, a slate of countries with new financial capacity to compete with the US are taking steps to form a World Bank alternative. Quite possibly, at a meeting in India later this month, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa may set up their own development bank with the goal, they say, ”to escape the dollar and the euro hegemonies and, if Chinese plans go well, making the yuan a global currency.” We’ll see what Sachs has to say about that adaptive initiative.
Originally published at CounterPunch.com