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August 1st, 2002
Land of Wandering Souls
Interview: Jeffrey Sachs

August 1, 2002: Jeffrey Sachs discusses Cambodia and the challenges of international development with host Jamie Rubin.

Jamie Rubin: Joining me tonight is Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. He has served as a key advisor on economic transitions around the world and last December was appointed special advisor to the secretary general of the United Nations. He is charged with organizing an international response to world poverty. He’s also the head of the Earth Institute here at Columbia University. Jeffrey Sachs, welcome.

Jeff Sachs: Thanks very much.

Jamie Rubin: Jeff, we just saw a film that showed extreme poverty in Cambodia. Why is this America’s business?

Jeff Sachs: I think the whole world would sit up at the images that we’ve seen in — more than take notice — be shocked. These are people fighting for survival, fighting to stay alive day to day to get enough to eat, to be able to earn the meager amount to be able to go see a doctor for a life-saving antibiotic. And here we are in the 21st, and you see people fighting for their survival every day. And of course Cambodia, with its population of a little more than 10 million, is an impoverished country. But it exemplifies a struggle that’s much more general. There are hundreds of millions of people for whom every day is a fight for survival . . . for the food to eat, for the way to stay clear of diseases that could kill them, kill their children, destroy their families, destroy their livelihoods.

Jamie Rubin: But for Americans, should we think of this as a moral issue, as the same reason one gives charity at ones church or to people on the street? Or are their national security implications of this kind of poverty around the world?

Jeff Sachs: Well, surely it is a moral issue in . . . in an obvious sense. And it’s even more a moral issue when one looks carefully at all the things that the wealthy countries could [do] to make huge differences to these people’s lives. But it’s more than that. We are in an inter-connected world, where our fates are tied up with the fates of Cambodia, with the fates of Nigeria.

If you thought a year ago what’s the place in the world that could never hurt the United States, you’d look at the map, you’d pick the middle of nowhere, as it were . . . you’d pick Afghanistan. We learned in a very graphic way in this country that in a globalized world society all of us are in this together. And that means Cambodians, that means impoverished Africans, that means those struggling for survival and development in the Andes war . . . war and drug trafficking are the daily fair to those in Central Asia and other parts of the struggling world.

Jamie Rubin: Let’s look at Afghanistan, then, for a moment. Do you think that what happened in Cambodia, ravaged by war, disease, genocide over decades — could that happen in Afghanistan if we don’t stay the course and help rebuild that country, the same kind of poverty that we’re seeing in Cambodia?

Jeff Sachs: We don’t have to deal in hypotheticals. This is what happened in Afghanistan, a society that collapsed, where civil war, political vacuum, warlordism ended up bringing the Taliban, ended up making that base in which terrorism could take hold. In Cambodia, we don’t have to speculate if whether America could somehow be implicated with Cambodia in a common fate. We fought a land war in Southeast Asia. This isn’t so long ago. This is a generation back.

In other words, these are not your hypotheticals – that poor places in the world somehow could threaten the United States. This is the reality. Except we keep finding each time that we are hit that way that it seems to us a surprise rather than understanding that that’s the nature of the world that we’re living in.

Jamie Rubin: But some Americans would look out at this kind of extreme poverty in Cambodia in the film we just saw and said “Well, that’s happening all over the world.” How typical is what we saw in the film in Cambodia?

Jeff Sachs: We were looking at the lives of some of the poorest of the poor in the world. Fortunately, a lot of economic development has taken place in the so-called developing world, which is five-sixths of humanity. The part that’s stuck in this incredible impoverishment of the kind that we saw is probably about one billion of the six billion of us on the planet. It’s about a billion. Maybe by some ways of thinking, one and a half billion, possibly two, who are struggling for survival. I define this kind of extreme poverty as poverty that kills. Not the poverty of inconvenience, not the poverty of jealousy, not the poverty of wanting to catch up with one’s neighbor. But the kind of poverty that threatens to take life. And not just threatens . . . takes millions of lives every year of people that are too impoverished for an adequate diet, that are too impoverished to see a doctor, that are too impoverished to gain access to clean water that they need for survival.

Jamie Rubin: So you’re looking at a billion people out there who need help. Who’s got the resources to help a billion people?

Jeff Sachs: Well, of course, what history shows is that a great part of economic progress takes place within the countries themselves as education spreads, as the technologies that have been developed in modern life take old in other parts of the world. Indeed, in the film we were seeing, a fiber optic cable being laid. Now, the irony was the back-breaking, life-threatening work to lay it. But, after all, let’s remember also that there will be a fiber optic cable there and it will reach Phenom Pehn. And sooner or later, and we hope sooner, it will reach villages in Cambodia and in Vietnam and in Thailand so that it will make a difference.

But what’s also true when you’re looking at such extreme poverty, countries that have been broken by disease, often broken by terrible civil war, by events outside of their country, more recently by dramatic climate change. If they don’t have a helping hand, a hand that can help to provide the education and the urgent needs to allow these system to lift themselves up, then inside of being on that positive path of development, which much of the world has caught, they can find themselves in a downward spiral in which the disarray of society, the conflict, the disease, the lack of education, the displacement of families, the separation of families, even the slavery that we heard talked about in that film can cause a downward spiral that eventually leads to mass violence, unwanted mass migration, the spread of disease, such as is taking place in Southeast Asia with AIDS right now threatening the whole region, including Cambodia.

And if you don’t catch that until you get calamity — that’s when it really comes back to haunt the United States and others. So just viewing this as a spectator sport — if you’re very cynical — or viewing this as a tragedy in which we shouldn’t get involved is a huge mistake, given what we can do. Given our own humanity and our own souls, but given our direct foreign policy, security, public health needs to prevent these kinds of crises from spinning out of control.

Jamie Rubin: But let’s look at the irony of this fiber optic cable now. Here you have jobs being provided to impoverished Cambodias, terrible conditions they’re working under. But the jobs wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fiber optics cable. And yet some of the advocates of helping the poor in Cambodia would criticize this kind of fiber optic plan, because the jobs were not up to Western standards. Where do you stand on this globalization doubt where some believe that by bringing fiber optic cables to places like Cambodia we end up harming the people there?

Jeff Sachs: I think first it’s important to understand the people that we saw were coming from the villages for temporary work, and then they were hoping to earn some money that they would bring back to the village. Cambodia, like many impoverished places, like most of the most impoverished places, is basically a rural agrarian society, with 80-90 percent of the households in peasant subsistence agriculture. The life in the countryside is so shockingly poor it’s hard for us as Americans to understand it. Without water and sanitation, without access to health care, without connections to a power grid, to put a computer online and so forth. This desperation, this is the poverty that kills people.

Jamie Rubin: But would they be better off with kerosene for their lamps, as the man said in the film, or helping build a fiber optic cable that no Cambodians are likely to ever use?

Jeff Sachs: Well, the idea is to understand first how extreme the impoverishment in the rural areas is, to understand why people take back-breaking jobs which threaten them physically. In the countryside, the dangers, the risks to their health, the extreme impoverishment and hungry is even worse in many parts of the country. Now, these jobs were temporary jobs. This was to earn a little income maybe to put the kerosene in the lamp.

The kinds of jobs that are more persisting in delivering income are what also is sometimes criticized here. But in Cambodia, it’s the garment factories, what are called the sweatshops. But those are the places, in Phnom Penh and in the other urban areas, which are providing the first food hold on the ladder out of extreme, death level impoverishment. And it’s getting that foot on the ladder, and then the next step and then the next step, which is the essence of the process of economic development.

Now, what I think is crucial to understand is that some places are in such extreme poverty that even lifting that foot to the first rung is nearly impossible. You have to have enough energy. You have to physically have enough nutrition to get that foot up there. Your leg has to be there. If there are landmines everywhere, that is not just a literate disaster, but it’s also terrible for a society that can’t get to even the first rung on the ladder.

So creating jobs, even humble jobs, allowing the shift from the extreme back-breaking, life-threatening rural poverty, to new sectors to manufacturers, to services, that is the development. But while some free market fundamentalists think “Oh, that can all happen by itself,” and others bemoan it even happening, I see something in between that, yes, that is a foot on the ladder, but we shouldn’t presume that it can take care of itself and we shouldn’t watch millions of people dropping from the ladder from extreme hunger, from disease, from the death of impoverishment while they’re trying to rise. We can help make this a civilized and dignified and much more assured process than it is.

Jamie Rubin: What [do] your recommendations entail in a country like Cambodia, 12 million people with several million living in this terrible situation like we saw in the film? Are we talking about foreign assistance, are we talking about debt relief? What would you recommend?

Jeff Sachs: Certainly when you have a country that’s so utterly impoverished that people are dying of their poverty, you can’t be asking them to re-pay debts that may have been taken on for some foreign policy reason or a World Bank loan or something else a decade or two ago when the re-payment of the loan literally kills. And one might think “Well, the civilized world would never do that.” But in fact, for dozens of countries in the world we’re actually debts at the cost of millions of lives. It’s the most unbelievable thing, but it is a kind of bureaucratic process. Those debts are on the books. Sure, why not collect them? You hear a lot of people say “Well, they borrowed, they should re-pay.” But it’s not so simple when re-payment means that there is no money available for drilling a bore well for clean water in a village or providing antibiotics and immunizations for children to keep people alive. And that’s the real situation. Or fighting the AIDS pandemic, which is sweeping through so much of impoverished world. So, no,

we should not collect debt when collecting debt means death to the people that are re-paying. That’s the first.

But second, what we need to do is help with the countries to find a path to real economic development. It’s not simply transferring money for the sake of doing it, though when it’s a humanitarian disaster, by all means I think Americans just are incredibly generous in those instances. But it’s finding ways to help invest in the future of these countries. The two utterly most reliable ways are investing in the health and in the education of the children in these countries so that we don’t lose another generation to disease and all of the disabilities of those who survive the disease, plus the fact that millions and millions . . . estimated 130 million, could be many more children around the world are not in primary school. They have no future economically unless they get an education. And we can help them do that. And so investing in the future of these countries is what’s utterly needed in addition to not pursuing this incredible folly of collecting debt.

Jamie Rubin: Well, invest is a nice sounding word. But I think we know that means spending money. And that money has to come from somewhere. When you look at the American foreign aid budget, how do you feel? Do you feel we’re spending the appropriate amount of money on these kinds of projects in countries like Cambodia?

Jeff Sachs: The foreign aid budget is shrouded in misconception and mystique. Many people think it’s a quarter of our budget. Many people think that we’re spending many percent of our Gross National Product every year on foreign assistance. Many people remember the Marshall Plan, which was one of the great examples of successful foreign assistance, and it was an act of incredible generosity.

Jamie Rubin: President Bush just referred to the Marshall Plan in the context of Afghanistan.

Jeff Sachs: Absolutely. Winston Churchill called it the most un-sordid act in history. The fact that Americans gave a lot of help to Europe to rebuild Europe after World War II. We did it because we wanted to live in a safe world. And we thought that that was a good way. And it proved to be a marvelous investment. But it’s led a lot of Americans to think that we

must be giving a tremendous amount of money. Where is it going? It must be wasted. And the fact is actually we are giving very little money right now. This is a shock. People don’t really accept it. But what we are giving right now is out of a $10 trillion economy, which means we produce $10 trillion of goods and services every year, we’re giving a total of $10 billion for all of the developing world. Which means one-thousandth of our annual income.

Jamie Rubin: What would that compare to the Marshall Plan? What percentage of our national income were we spending then?

Jeff Sachs: We were spending not one-thousandth or one-tenth of one percent. But we were spending about 20 times that as a share of our income, about two percent of the gross national product in the big years of the Marshall Plan. When you spend one- thousandth of your income, what it’s doing is you’re taking one penny out of every $10. You’re saying “Here’s $10. We keep $9.99 cents for us, and we take one penny and we give for the whole developing world.”

Now, we also take that penny and we divide it. And we give some to middle income countries, who are not as rich as us, but not fighting for survival, and we give only a small fraction of that penny to the countries fighting for survival. Now, why do we do that? Because a lot of our foreign assistance is political, or it’s aiming for a regional problem that may be important for us, but it’s not aiming at helping the poorest of the poor in the world. It’s not really development assistance necessarily even. So if in all we’re taking one penny out of ever $10 for our foreign assistance and we’re living in a world where both for our heart and our protection we should want to do more.

Jamie Rubin: We have a president, President Bush, who said he would increase our foreign aid spending. We have the Congress, we have the American people. What accounts, in your view, for this rather small percentage of the income that we actually spend on foreign assistance? Why?

Jeff Sachs: We’ve got a kind of bi-partisan consensus over the last 20 years to just cut and cut and cut our foreign assistance up actually until the last year or two. This wasn’t really one party or another or one administration or another. There was maybe ideologically the idea that, well, poor people, if they just take care of themselves, they … if they take care of themselves, they can get rich. That is an American feeling. We’d like it to be true.

Maybe we don’t fully understand what it’s like to come out of a devastating, brutal genocide. Maybe we don’t have really a fully feeling of what it’s like as an impoverished country to be facing an AIDS pandemic leaving millions of children orphaned. Maybe we don’t feel really how hard it is when you’re living in a climate subject to extreme drought, which can leave millions of people destitute and many of those dying. Maybe we don’t really know how hard it is when you’re living in a malarial region, where the climate is making so much malaria that children by the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands are dying.

We took an easy view, which said “Be like us. You can go do it.” And it’s a great view. In some parts of the world, it may even be true. But we haven’t understood that for parts of the world, for the unlucky parts of the world, whether it’s because of disease or climate or geographical isolation or the devastation of civil war or genocide. It’s not simply a matter of picking yourself up by the bootstraps. If you don’t have help, you can get caught in the most horrendous downward spiral.

Jamie Rubin: So you are detecting real changes now in the Congress and the executive branch and among the assistance groups? You think there’s a change moving towards the kind of explosion in spending that you’d like to see happen?

Jeff Sachs: For the first time in 20 years, the foreign assistance budget is pointing up rather than down. And this is definitely a response to September 11. It’s a response of Americans that are seeing the rest of the world, understanding it is a dangerous world and that we need to invest in many ways in our security. It’s also Americans seeing the horrors that we

saw in the film or of the AIDS pandemic. And Americans respond with incredible generosity. They want to know that the spending can work. They’ve had a feeling that it’s not working, partly basic they have greatly over-estimated what we’re actually spending. But when you can show Americans that that money will really go to immunizations or really help children get into school or really provide clean water, Americans respond, and they will respond in large numbers and I think with generosity.

Jamie Rubin: Now, one of the standard and particularly effectively criticisms of foreign assistance is that much of the money in these big projects goes to governments in the third world or the developing world, and that a lot of those projects involve corruption or bribery or payoffs.

Jeff Sachs: And not just on our side.

Jamie Rubin: (Laughs) What is your view as to whether [there] is a new approach to foreign assistance where that kind of corruption and problem can be avoided?

Jeff Sachs: I’d say that, again, Americans think that since we’re giving so much and we don’t quite see the results, there must be that huge black hole sucking up the money. And a realistic sense would say, first of all, let’s be a little bit more calm and dispassionate. It’s not that we’re losing all that money, it’s that we haven’t really invested that much in many of these utterly needed programs.

What’s also true is that whether a program works or not depends on whether it’s well-directed. Are we giving money to a thug because that thug may happen to be our thug, or are we giving money to a government that doesn’t really need it, but it’s an ally of ours, so we want to give it a “thank you.” Or are we giving money [to] others [who] really try to focus on the great challenges facing the poorest of the poor. When we do that, we actually see a lot of results.

Americans certainly don’t begrudge the pennies that they put in the UNICEF canisters on Halloween night. Because they know that that money is going to immunizations, it’s going to help children in school. If more of our foreign assistance were directed at the health emergencies, at helping to fight AIDS, at helping to fight malaria and tuberculosis, to immunize children, to make sure that in these impoverished countries, half a million mothers now die in child birth because they don’t have a skilled attendant with them, or that there are nearly three million deaths per year from diseases that could be prevented by immunization, if they felt that the money were going towards those needs, I think that they’d be much more eager to support.

Jamie Rubin: You’ve suggested that the Administration and the Congress are now more open to spending greater sums on foreign assistance for places like Cambodia. How much farther do we have to go, in your opinion, to be at the right number?

Jeff Sachs: We’re spending a penny out of every $10 right now. Maybe two pennies out of $10, maybe three pennies out of $10 will be what it takes in the end. It’s not going to be much more than that, in fact, because even that small amount, given how rich we are, would mean some extra tens of billions of dollars a year when combined with the other rich countries’ contributions, which would be sufficient to actually change the course of these countries.

When I headed a project for the World Health Organization in the last couple of years, we asked the question, “What would it take to help provide the life saving interventions for the poorest of the poor to really fight AIDS?” Not just to talk about it, but to really fight AIDS. To fight malaria, TB, the diseases which kill children, the provision of skilled attendants at childbirth.

And we found out something absolutely remarkable: that eight million lives a year could be saved, eight million, if in each of the rich countries another one penny out of $10 was put aside for health in the poorest countries. So for an extra penny out of $10, we could save eight million lives a year.

Jamie Rubin: That sounds easy, but let’s face it, that means a doubling or a tripling of our foreign assistance budget. Do you see any signs that members of Congress, members in the Executive Branch, are prepared to even consider doubling or tripling our aid?

Jeff Sachs: When one starts out with tiny amounts, then a doubling still leaves a very, very small amount. So I think if it were put to the Americans eight million lives a year saved by an American effort in which we set aside another penny out of $10, if Americans believed that that would really work, I think they’d jump at the chance. They know the difference that that would make for their hearts and souls, and also for the stability of the world and for the chance that Africa, that Cambodia, that other impoverished places in the world could have a future. And I think Americans absolutely would go for it.

Jamie Rubin: But would the Congress? I mean, there’s no constituency for foreign assistance. It isn’t like a farm bill, it isn’t like a military program which is built in a specific district. What would transfer the support of the American people into real change in Congress and the Executive Branch?

Jeff Sachs: Well, of course I think the biggest issue right now is that Congressmen think this is a dangerous vote. “How can I vote for foreign assistance?”

Jamie Rubin: To double it!

Jeff Sachs: My constituents are going to be all over me!” And that, I think, is not the right political calculation actually. That may have seemed right five or ten or 20 years ago. After September 11th, I don’t believe that there’s that risk there. I think Americans would like to see the leadership help to steer us to a safer world. When President Bush proposed a modest, and yet historic up turn in foreign assistance. Historic because it was the first time in a generation, he didn’t face a huge cacophony of criticism. He didn’t face the Conservative Right saying, “Why would you ever do that?” In fact it went so smoothly in part because, after all, when we’re talking about pennies on $10, it’s really a small amount. We are spending so much more one week to the next, whether it’s farm subsidies or some other issue, that we’re talking about very small amounts that could change the world in a way which Americans would dearly love.

Jamie Rubin: Now, do you think the argument the President put forward when he made this modest increase that poverty breeds resentment and can breed terrorism is a compelling argument? Do you think it’s true in Cambodia? Is it true in some places or in all places? How, how do you view the poverty-breeding terrorism argument?

Jeff Sachs: People have said, “Well, the terrorists were middle class, even rich, so what is this poverty/ terrorism link?” I think it’s a misunderstanding. Where poverty played its role was in the failure of politics in Afghanistan, which left such a vacuum that the Taliban were able to consolidate power and provide a base for terrorist operations.

Jamie Rubin: A home for terrorists.

Jeff Sachs: So what the president has rightly said: It’s not that the impoverished are the terrorists, but impoverishment creates conditions in which all sorts of ills of immediate concern to Americans can take hold. Deals can be terrorism, they can be drug trafficking, because boy, do we see a lot of impoverished or failed states where you

get the foothold of international narcotics trafficking. They can be the spread of disease, because when you have prominent infectious disease, whether it’s tuberculosis with its new resistant strains or whether it’s AIDS itself, these can spread all over the world if they’re not being attended to in the pockets where you have so much disease burden. So what impoverishment does is provide a general seed bed for all sorts of terrible things to happen. Not just the terrible things in the lives themselves, which could be enough of an argument, after all, because Americans as a generous and humane people don’t want to see that anyway. But it also creates the opening for the violence, for the civil war, for the youth gangs, for the narcotics traffickers, and, yes, for the terrorists as well.

Jamie Rubin: Let’s talk a little bit about how this aid is spent. One of the most prominent criticisms of foreign assistance is that this money is going to corrupt governments. Your boss, the Secretary General of the United Nations, has said that the first challenge for governments who want foreign assistance is to have good governance. How important is it that this money be spent without the kind of corruption that was associated with it in the past?

Jeff Sachs: Good governance is critical and one individual or crony regime can bring down a whole society. So this is something we know. We’ve even supported some of those, because they were the thugs on our side of the Cold War in some of these conflicts. So governance is critical. The mistake is the blind view that, well, it’s all corruption out there, and therefore, there’s nothing that can be done. Many people think of Africa as just one country, one big country with a mess that can’t be solved, and with so much corruption and so forth, and this is a huge misunderstanding. There are many extremely well governed countries, at least at the low levels of income that are trying desperately to get out of poverty, but don’t have enough to run a health care system or can’t run a school system, because there’s just too much impoverishment or too much disease or they’re overrun by the AIDS pandemic. So we have to think in a lot more sophisticated way. No one wants to give money to a thuggish regime which is going to steal it, but what we have to understand and what my studies and many others have found when they’ve looked at this seriously is that there are impoverished places all over the world that are struggling with democracy, that are struggling with the social expenditure on health and education that are needed but are just too poor to get out of the trap, and those are the places that need the help.

If we were reliably helping those countries and holding back on the others, well, it would be a completely different story. But even the countries that well governed and are desperate for the help and the partnership, they also are not getting the level of help that they need.

Jamie Rubin: Now a lot of people would listen to you, Jeff Sachs, and they’d say “he’s an idealist, but in the real world, the way the famous philosopher Hobbes talked about it, life is nasty, brutish and short.” Do you really think that even with another penny on the $10 that we’re going to eliminate poverty around the world? That we’re going to create a situation where there’s no poor people, there are no people with no medicine and no health care? Is that . . . is that really a plausible long term goal?

Jeff Sachs: I actually don’t think life is nasty, brutish and short, or that it, that it has to be, let’s say. Certainly in our country through generations of economic progress and a lot of help for desperately poor people so their children could go to school or go to, uh, see a doctor or have clean water through all of the efforts that have been made, we were able to eliminate that kind of poverty that kills, and so have many, many other societies in the world, and we’ve learned how to cooperate and we’ve learned how to rise above the Hobbesian war of all against all. We can do this. In fact, the part of the world that’s in the extreme impoverishment that Cambodia is and that many other countries are, that part of the world is shrinking, because economic development is proceeding. And this makes it so utterly possible if we combine our great prowess through the wealth and the technology and the science and the learning that we’ve developed and address it to that part of the world that so urgently needs it, we actually could solve these problems in partnership with these countries. They are desperate for it.

Jamie Rubin: So you think global poverty is a solvable problem at a cheap price.

Jeff Sachs: Just as John Maynard Keynes said in 1930, in the middle of the Great Depression, that poverty could be eliminated in England. People said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Just look at what economic growth can do if we look down to the possibilities for our grandchildren,” as he put it. Well, that was true in England, and it’s true in the United States, and it was true in many countries in the world. We can now do this on the global scale. We can do it if we understand that while a lot of the progress will necessarily come from within the countries, no doubt about it. With a helping hand, we can make this a worldwide process with magnificent results, not only for the impoverished, but for the world that we ourselves and our children live in.

Jamie Rubin: Some of the anti-globalization activist groups look at a problem like Cambodia and this fiber optic cable and, and they wonder whether this is a, a created situation where a cable was being put in, and rather than providing kerosene or foreign assistance for the people who need it, a global project to the benefit of the rich countries was put in place. And I guess the counter argument is that any job in this part of the world is better than no job. How do you balance this problem?

Jeff Sachs: I think first the premise is not correct that this is just for rich people, this cable. This is a cable that Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia will use to hook up to the Internet. Now I’m going to villages all over the world where people are using the Internet. Not very many people because they haven’t had the access; they haven’t been able to hook up. But the idea that this is somehow just for us and not for them is a huge mistake.

Jamie Rubin: But in Cambodia, I think, is the lowest Internet usage in the world. It’s more expensive to use the Internet than it is to provide food and medicine for six months for a person in Phnom Penh.

Jeff Sachs: One will find that the Internet is used in Phnom Penh to help this budding textile and apparels sector to be able to place its orders, to receive the fashion design instructions, and that it will actually be used for business purposes, as well as for a lot of other purposes. In Southern India I’ve been involved with a number of the states in Southern India where Internet use in the villages, in very poor villages, has taken off because it’s quite, quite an amazing thing. And where the scientists there have been able to develop a very low cost way of distributing the Internet within the village itself. It’s experimental, but it’s actually quite amazing.

Jamie Rubin: Some people look at this fiber optic cable project and they say these people are suffering through this terrible work conditions in order for the upper classes, the rich international communications consortium to have Internet usage, when in Cambodia they don’t use the Internet because they’re too poor.

Jeff Sachs: I think first the, the premise is wrong, because the Internet actually will be used by poor people, as well as rich. This is something that we’re seeing in India and elsewhere. But I think there’s a more general point also. The anti-globalizers think that somehow hooking up to the global economy is either so dangerous or so wrong headed that countries like Cambodia should just step back. That’s not really Cambodia’s problem, the global economy. Cambodia’s problem is that coming from a situation of impoverishment and then civil war and genocide. Cambodia was outside of the process of economic development and growth for decades, while costal China, while neighboring Thailand, even Vietnam after the war ended, were able to achieve economic development by joining the world economy. Now what’s true is that if we were to look at any of these countries step by step out of the impoverishment, it’s pretty grim. The lives of the impoverished are grim. That’s why we ought to help to diminish that, uh, extent of suffering and to help make reliable and much more rapid the escape from impoverishment. But there is a way out. It does involve joining the world economy, but it also means a helping hand from the rich that have already made it.

Jamie Rubin: Let’s talk about who can provide that helping hand. Some people say that it’s really not government’s job, that government is not an international social worker, but that much of the money available is in the hands of corporate America or the business community the wealth in the hands of individuals. How do you assign the various responsibilities for providing that helping hand?

Jeff Sachs: It’s also true that in our economic system, business is not primarily philanthropic in its outlook; it’s there to make money. And on the whole we do quite well out of that, because our market based economic system with profit maximizing business, while it’s got its slips, no doubt, has produced an incredible amount of, of productivity and material well being. We can’t look to be out of charity, as it were, or even out of foreign policy (Laughs) or out of security or out of all the interest that we have in this. We can’t look to business to be the source of the billions of dollars that it will take. Only governments acting on behalf of all of our joint interest in living in a safer world can do that. But we can’t let business off the hook by any means. Business has a role, first being a responsible partner in this, and our businesses can act with a lot of impunity and corruption and so forth in those places, and that is to nobody’s advantage, even to our own business. We see over and over again that, uh, the corrupt path is not a way to run a business in the long term. More than that, business in our society has a lot of the technology, a lot of the organization and management skills that are vitally needed for development success. Our businesses, the drug companies, they’ve helped, together with our government, to make these wonder drugs to fight AIDS, the anti-retroviral medicines.

Jamie Rubin: Aren’t they too expensive for the people in Cambodia and Africa to buy?

Jeff Sachs: And if the drug companies are responsible partners with the donor governments so that the companies are selling those drugs just at the cost of producing them, not at prices way above cost, which they might sell under patent protection, but if they’re responsible partners selling at the low cost and the donors are buying at the low cost on behalf of these impoverished people that couldn’t even afford that low cost, well, then you get this kind of public sector leadership together with private sector responsibility in which both sectors contribute to help solve the real problems of the poorest of the poor. So we have to step back from the ideology or the conception that it should be all one or all other, and understand that each part has its own role to play, but a role which fits within the basic character of the public sector and the private sector.

Jamie Rubin: Jeff Sachs, thank you for joining me.

Jeff Sachs: Oh, thank you very much.


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