Jeffrey Sachs- The strange case of Dr Shock and Mr Aid

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Our book of the month is JEFFREY SACHS- THE STRANGE CASE OF DR SHOCK AND MR AID by Japhy Wilson

Japhy Wilson

Japhy Wilson is Lecturer in International Political Economy at the University of Manchester. He has published in the fields of political economy, human geography, and development studies. He is co-editor with Erik Swyngedouw of The Post-Political and Its Discontents: Spaces of Depoliticization, Spectres of Radical Politics (Edinburgh University Press, 2014).

The book charts Jeffrey Sachs’ career which is described as schizophrenic. Sachs career has swung from advocating austerity, to aid and sustainable development with mixed results.

Here is how the book is structured

Dr. Shock

In the first part of the book, Wilson takes us through the rise of Jeffrey Sachs as an economist as well as how he rose to prominence. We learn that Sachs is an advocate of  the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and World Bank’s  economic policies called Structural Adjustment Programmes  (SAPS) and was instrumental in their application in countries such as Poland, Bolivia and Russia. We learn of the impact such programmes had on the citizens of those countries.  In the case of Russia, Wilson tells us that when SAPs failed, Sachs called on the west to bail Russian out by giving the country aid. These calls went an unanswered and instead of drawing lessons from this experience  we learn that, Sachs reinvented himself as a humanitarian

Mr Aid

In Chapter 3 of the book deals with Sach’s transformation from Mr Shock to Dr. Aid.  His new patient was to be the African continent. We learn that he achieved this by presenting himself as a development guru through his writing of books such as The End of Poverty. Having been reincorporated into development policy making Sachs was sought after in shaping of the global development agenda that we call the Millennium Development Goals. Notwithstanding this transformation, we learn that Sachs did not abandon his neoliberal ideas nor did he support the antiglobalisation movement. We further learn of his prescription to  Africa and Sachs sets out to demonstrate that his prescription works by  “building” villages across Africa.

The Millennium Villages Project

In chapters 4 and 5 of the book, Wilson sets out to explore Sachs’ ideas in practice by visiting Ruhiira in SW Uganda  one of the villages participating in the Millennium Villages Project MVP programme. We learn that  the Ruhiira MVP is not as successful as Sachs would have us believe as the program has been imposed on the village without due regard to conditions on the ground nor the power and class structures that exist in such villages. As a consequence, rather than improve poverty levels MVP have compounded them. We learn of the secrecy in which the MVPs are shrouded and the hoops through which those wishing to undertake research on the projects have to jump.

Eco Warrior and anti-globalist

In the final chapter, we learn of yet another transformation of Jeffrey Sachs. This time Sachs, takes on climate change issues, joins the Occupy Wall Street anti capitalist movement protest but continues to promote the rights of global companies to make a profit at the expense of the poor.

My Take

I enjoyed reading this book. Wilson has done something important for those amongst us with an interest in international development policies. By their nature MVPs are shrouded in secrecy in this book Wilson gives us a rare look behind the scenes and in turn exposes the short comings of MVPs as well as Sach’s fantasies as Africa’s saviour.

The book opened my eyes as to how Jeffrey Sachs rose to prominence  which in turn left me thinking that his policies on ending poverty in Africa are dangerous and if it were up to me, he’d be stopped. I wondered why he is still trusted by world leaders and presidents alike when he is seemingly unable to stick with anyone conviction that he has presented.

I also wondered whether neo-liberal policies have a future.

Who is this book for?

The structure and style of writing makes the book easily accessible to anyone with an interest in world affairs. If you are a student of International Relations, the Political economy and Development, this is a must read book as it takes the YUK out of theories. It is a great  illustration of Structuralist and Neoliberal theories in practice.


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