Economist Jeffrey Sachs has fiery debate with Afshin Rattansi over his advisory record (E921)
On this episode of Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi speaks to economist Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs discusses the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic and why he finds it disastrous, the success of China and New Zealand and comparatively poorer countries such as Vietnam against Covid-19. The conversation becomes heated as Rattansi confronts Sachs with allegations that he was an architect of Russia’s post-Soviet economic turmoil and Bolivia’s economic disaster via neoliberal shock therapy. But Sachs seeks to correct the record and vehemently denies being a supporter of mass privatization and free-market extremism.
Statement by Japhy Wilson, in response to Jeffrey Sachs’s interview on RT’s Going Underground
In a recent interview on RT’s Going Underground, Jeffrey Sachs unjustifiably dismisses two claims contained in a book I wrote about his curious career, entitled Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid (Verso, 2014). I would like to address each of these in turn:
1: On pages 35 and 42 of my book, I quote Jeffrey Sachs as having described himself as a “free market ideologue.” When asked about this in the interview on Going Underground, Sachs responds: “That is false. I didn’t say that”.
But Sachs did say that. And he is in print doing so. The quote is taken from the transcript of a keynote speech he gave at an international conference of neoliberal policy makers held in 1993, when he was still an economic advisor to Yeltsin, and when Russia was still in the depths of the crisis brought about in large part by his ‘shock therapy’ reforms. He used his speech to make the case for international financial assistance for Russia, which he argued was necessary to ensure that his free market reforms were not reversed in the face of growing popular opposition. At one point he told his audience of another speech delivered to the Heritage Foundation – an influential neoliberal think tank. It is in this context that he made his claim to being a ‘free market ideologue’. Here is the quote:
“I spoke on this topic recently at the Heritage Foundation. My talk was sparked by a letter sent to me by an analyst there, who believed strongly in Russia’s reforms but not in foreign aid for Russia. This is a common view of free-market ideologues – of which I am one. It is plausible, but it is mistaken. The market cannot do it all by itself; international help is critical.” (Jeffrey Sachs, ‘Life in the Economic Emergency Room’, in John Williamson, ed., The Political Economy of Policy Reform Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics, 1994 p. 504, emphasis added).
2: On page 37 of my book I write that "A New York Times article notes that ‘Living standards dropped by half in Russia during the three years that Professor Sachs advised Boris Yeltsin’”. When confronted by this quote in his interview on Going Underground, Sachs responds:
“I don’t know who or what you’re quoting or when you’re quoting.”
The source for the quote is: Daniel Altman, ‘For an Economic Proselytizer, Another Highly Visible Pulpit; Attention, Good and Bad, Follows Jeffrey Sachs’, New York Times, 29 November 2002.
When informed of this source, Sachs responds: “2002? This is by the way, silly, because that is ten years after what we’re talking about. And is that an article by me? Come on this makes no sense.”
This is a peculiar response. Whether the article was written by Sachs or not, or in 2002 or not, is surely irrelevant to the accuracy of the claim being made. Sachs does not dispute this claim on any other grounds, and it is consistent with a multitude of similarly stark figures from equally reputable sources that I cite in my book regarding the impact of Sachs’s shock therapy programme in Russia.
If you would like to find out more about the strange case of Jeffrey Sachs, and what it has to tell us about the neoliberal project in general, then please allow me to point you in the direction of my book! https://www.versobooks.com/books/1603-jeffrey-sachs