Global unemployment being at 200 million according to the ILO, there a lot of people writing cover letters and polishing up their CVs. Jeff Sachs, celebrity economist and aid proponent, has joined the group of job seekers, though in a tougher political environment than most. He probably didn’t help his cause by almost contradicting himself within a week, and his CV might need a lot of polishing.
Sach’s cover letter for the job appeared in the Washington Post this morning. As any good cover letter, it sings the praise of the candidate:
My track record is to side with the poor and hungry, not with a corporate balance sheet or a government. Yet the solutions work for all — the poor, companies, governments and the rest of us — by creating a more prosperous, healthy and secure world. …
I’ll stand on my record of helping to create those networks: to launch the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; to bring new support for the world’s poorest farmers so they can boost yields, production and income; to scale up the role of community health workers; to translate debt relief into poverty reduction; to link the poorest countries to global markets in support of exports for growth; to make mobile technologies the new edge of development practice; and to link climate science with solutions.
My role has been to help bring together vastly diverse communities of knowledge, power, and influence to see what can work in practice and then to help make it happen.
I am ready to lead the bank into a new era of problem-solving.
Sachs is the first openly declared candidate, though he has not had the nomination of any government as of yet. But his campaign might be off to a rocky start. In his regular monthly column for Project Syndicate, published on the 24th of February, this American economist implied the job shouldn’t go to an American:
From the Bank’s establishment until today, the unwritten rule has been that the US government simply designates each new president: all 11 have been Americans, and not a single one has been an expert in economic development, the Bank’s core responsibility, or had a career in fighting poverty or promoting environmental sustainability. Instead, the US has selected Wall Street bankers and politicians, presumably to ensure that the Bank’s policies are suitably friendly to US commercial and political interests.
Yet the policy is backfiring on the US and badly hurting the world. Because of a long-standing lack of strategic expertise at the top, the Bank has lacked a clear direction. Many projects have catered to US corporate interests rather than to sustainable development.
Of course, Sach’s earlier column leaves him an escape route. In the final detail, he argues that the job shouldn’t go to someone “from Wall Street or from US politics”. That leaves him above the fray, ready to work with all countries and all interests. Sachs, in his cover letter, highlights some of his experience: including travelling to “more than 125 countries, from mega-city capitals to mountaintop villages, from rain forest settlements to nomadic desert camps” and “understanding the realities of flooded villages, drought-ridden farms, desperate mothers hovering over comatose, malaria-infected children, and teenage girls unable to pay high school tuition.”
Left out of his CV are some of the most controversial years of his experience – 1985 to 1993 when he served as an economic advisor, first in Latin America, and then in the former Soviet bloc, including in Poland, Russia, Estonia and Slovenia. The “shock therapy” he designed for those economies – massive liberalisation and privatisation – has been controversial. In the case of the Soviet bloc countries it has been argued that it contributed to them plunging into recession, seeing increased unemployment, and in the most spectacular case of Russia, led to the rise of the first wave of Russian oligarchs who profited handsomely off the fire sale of state assets.
We all make mistakes… Has he learned from them? Should Sachs be interviewed for the job in the end, let’s hope his interview panel asks that interesting question about failures that the candidate has learned from, and that Sachs can give the easy answer.
Many civil society organisations would no doubt be pleased to see Sachs as the US nominee, his having been instrumental in calls for greater aid, more debt relief, and a focus on spending on social services like health and education. His friendship with Bono might bring some glamour as well. Can he convince Lael Brainard and President Obama to tip him for the job?