Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jeffrey Sachs: Stupidest Man in Public Life? (plus: bribery and brains)

Jeffery Sachs was once a respected development economist (and remains beloved by UN-idolizing NPR-donor types who think praising JFK remains a novel idea) but may now be widely regarded as the stupidest man in public life -- not just because of his shockingly puerile and sometimes embarrassingly self-aggrandizing op-eds but because of the new book The Idealist by Nina Munk, who is being honored by Reason tonight. 

She (sympathetically) observed Sachs at work in the developing world and chronicled how quickly his ideas and projects went awry when they intersected with imperfect, unpredictable conditions on the ground.  The book is reportedly a heartbreaking portrait of pointy-headed professorhood whacking the hard ceiling of reality, as it so often does.  Having seen Sachs speak a couple of times, I cannot imagine the book will put a dent in his palpable egotism, but it can’t hurt.

Since the left made a sport in recent years of criticizing market-oriented advisors to developing countries, including Milton Friedman, it’s only fair the left’s far more disastrous bungling gurus get some scrutiny once in a while, too. 


Friedman is also under attack by Mark Ames, I see, who has written a piece arguing that since real estate interests underwrote an early Friedman essay on rent control, all of libertarianism is a phony ideology, as if the arguments we libertarians make aren’t exactly the same even when no one’s paying to hear them. 

Of course, disclosure of financial ties can be more useful the more ambiguous and open to interpretation an argument is, as with Charles C. Johnson reminding readers that a newly-prominent advocate of war in Syria is employed by a neocon thinktank and underwritten Islam-friendly organization plus our own State Department to boot.  The more foggy the ideas and the more substantial the biasing influences, the more I’m willing to listen to accusations of intellectual chicanery, in short, but some ideas are too clear-cut and widely held to be easily amenable to bribery.

I’m sure the concept of, say, egalitarianism was not created solely because some short guy slipped a gold coin to a writer to complain about his tall neighbors thousands of years ago, and I certainly wouldn’t see it as a knock-down refutation of socialism even if such an incident had actually occurred.  By contrast, tell me that Al Gore has massive investments in green technology companies (as he does), I might at least be willing to hear more about it.

Money has influence, but it’s not everything (speaking of which, given my half-hearted status as a registered Republican, now I’m going to go vote in the NYC Republican mayoral primary for bureaucrat Joe Lhota, since Catsimatidis seems like an idiot despite being an extremely rich businessman). 

P.S. And speaking of sinister influences, tomorrow I’ll blog of Jesse Walker’s swell new book on conspiracy theorists, United States of Paranoia.

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