Sachs and Easterly Have A Lot In Common. By Matthew Lesso

The debate between Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Easterly over the usefulness and effectiveness of aid has gone on for a very long time. It is difficult to tell which side is right or wrong, however, as both sides appear to be looking at the same facts from a different point of view. For example, Sachs writes that the poverty rate in Africa has fallen by 17 percent, which he points to as a success for the Millennium Project because this marks a significant drop. Easterly considers this a failure because it fell short of the original goal of 50 percent reduction in poverty. Therefore, the real problem does not appear to be that the aid was ineffective, but that the goals set by the Millennium Project may have been too ambitious and unrealistic. Neither person seems to be debating whether or not aid is effective; the real debate has been over just how big a role it should play in development and eliminating poverty.

Easterly is correct that Sachs’ approach has placed too much emphasis on aid. His belief that aid can easily eliminate poverty was very ideological and has been proven wrong. His belief that some countries are caught in a poverty trap and unable to help themselves is also inaccurate, although not completely incorrect either. Easterly identifies as a “searcher” meaning he is part of a school of thought that believes we still need to search for a solution to poverty and need to be open to new ideas. Easterly is correct that Sachs needs to place less emphasis on aid and be more open to exploring other ways to eliminate poverty.

In his more recent writings, Sachs seems to acknowledge that aid is “not the engine of development.” He is correct, however, that aid has been successful in a lot of important areas, particularly public health. Aid has played an important role in facilitating economic growth and reducing poverty by eliminating and reducing certain obstacles, such as malaria, and creating conditions more favorable to growth and development. Sachs is also correct that Easterly has downplayed the importance and significance of aid and the role it still has to play in the fight to end poverty.

While both Sachs and Easterly have made important points and pointed out flaws in one another’s arguments, neither side has really won, as the argument is not winnable. In the debate over the role and effectiveness of aid, Sachs and Easterly have been arguing with one another over whether the glass is half empty or half full. Sachs acknowledges that aid is not the only solution but insists it still has an important role to play and cannot be disregarded, while Easterly acknowledges that aid has had some important successes but insists its use is limited and it is important to look for other solutions. It would be more beneficial for Sachs and Easterly, and the sides they have come to represent, to spend less time arguing and more time focusing on common ground and working together in the fight to boost development and end poverty.


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