“You’re welcome to come to Africa”

As I mentioned last week, Russ Roberts has a podcast with Jeffrey Sachs that is well worth listening to.  The exchange gets increasingly testy, with Sachs constantly interrupting and offering long-winded lectures.  I’m impressed with how calm, focused, and professional Russ remained throughout.  Sachs has no data (he keeps saying that we just need to wait until 2016), so his “proof” consists of anecdotes.  It makes it pretty hard to argue against but also not very convincing.

Amongst all the tension there were some very funny moments as well, although they certainly weren’t intentionally funny on the part of Sachs. Here are some of my favorite exchanges:


Russ: So that sounds good. I’d love to come to Africa some time, see what’s going on.

Sachs: You’re welcome to come to Africa.


Sachs: Well, I’m proud of it.

Russ: You should be.

Sachs: And I’m proud of other things, too.

Russ: You should be.


Russ: The challenge is: Is there a sustainable market? What a market does is it allows you to help other people by doing something that they value and they pay you for it. Do you see that happening? And why didn’t that appear to be happening?

Sachs: Okay. Of course it’s happening. And Russ, you love markets; I love markets. And of course markets are functioning. And they function better now that there are phones, now that there is more electrification, now that the roads are improved. Because transactions costs are a critical part of making markets work.

Sachs: And I think it’s worth my saying, though I wouldn’t have thought there would have been such confusion about it, but you know I’m a macroeconomist and development economist and I’ve worked in about 130 countries around the world at some level or another, or visited that number and worked in most of them in one way or another.


Russ: The problem is—

Sachs: So this is just a piece of this.

Russ: The problem—

Sachs: It’s not a problem.

Russ: No, but the problem is—

Sachs: It’s not a problem–it’s a piece of the puzzle.

Russ: No, the problem is I don’t think we know very much as economists about how to create markets.


Russ: And those are the ones I was referring to in our quote which you took from our transcript, which I still think is true, that if—

Sachs: No you don’t.

Russ: Yes, I do.


Sachs: I know, but you’re citing something from the beginning of a project.

Russ: First 5 years,

Sachs: Why are you doing that?

Russ: First five years.

Sachs: No, no. By the way it’s not even the first 5 years of the project. It is within the first 5 years of a 5 year project. Of a 10 year project, excuse me. So that’s a kind of game—

Russ: No, I don’t think it’s a– no, timeout.—

Sachs: It really is not–it’s not justified Russ.

Russ: I thought the Lancet article covered 2007-2010 which would not be—

Sachs: Yes. The project goes from 2005–2015.


3 thoughts on ““You’re welcome to come to Africa”

  1. I’m only an hour into it, but I came away with the same feeling. He didn’t offer any solid data but kept saying the preliminary data looks promising.

    He did say malaria fell, but I’m not sure how much it fell relative to non Millennium Village Projects.

    And he seemed to brush aside the Lancet retraction as meaningless since better data is forthcoming.

  2. Glad to see him rattled. As he should be. He’s lucky he got 50 million from Soros (who has it to play with) and not people who really need it back or he’d be in deep, deep trouble. I see him indirectly referring to my blog post (http://buildingstatecapability.com/2014/02/05/tales-and-tells-of-a-development-amateur/) pointing out he really is a macroeconomist but not a development economist (by nature or nurture). It proves my point about his having no clue about implementation that he would cite being in 130 countries as evidence he is a development economist. Flying in and giving people a lecture, meeting with dignitaries, maybe making a token visit to a Potemkin village and flying out again is exactly what doesn’t matter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s