Jeff Sachs: the Economy Doctor Makes Housecalls

24 MB MP3

Yes, housecalls. Meaning that since our conversation with Jeff Sachs on Open Source in early June, he’s been logging real-world economic symptoms in China, Tajikistan, Israel, Abu Dhabi, Yemen, Libya, UK (for the G8 summit), Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Djibouti, Rwanda, Malawi, Indonesia and Cambodia.

We think of Jeff Sachs, here at Open Source, as “our Condi,” or “the Real Condi.” He is a macro-economist who keeps his human reflexes alive by, not least, taking his wife, a clinical M.D., and their three kids on the road with him.

Sachs is a principal economic adviser to Kofi Annan and the UN’s Millenium Development Goals. His much-discussed “End of Poverty” presented a schedule of technical and financial aid that could eliminate mass starvation and the plague of AIDS and malaria in twenty years, with a modest increase in the set-aside of our prosperity. Last June on Open Source, Sachs elaborated a development test in rural Western Kenya.

Tonight, we’ve agreed to start and bear down hard on China, so much in the news about Unocal, the yuan, Walmart and the dawning realization that in addition to manufacturing our “stuff” now the Chinese also sustain the interest rates that sustain our housing bubble and the rest of our fat and happy fantasy. Is this not the dangerous dance ahead for the foreseeable future: us and China–empires rising and fading, a thousand ways entwined?

According to Goldman Sachs, China’s GDP will exceed that of the United States in around 2041. The economist Angus Maddison puts the Oriental sorpasso as early as 2015. By 2050, the combined output of China and India may well exceed that of the entire G8.

Niall Ferguson, The Telegraph

As Jeff Sachs flies through Indonesia and Southeast Asia, East and West Africa, and then the Middle East, I wonder: where does he feel the reach of the new overseas Chinese–or the New China Overseas?

We won’t exhaust the China questions, but on the chance that we did, I would ask: so what else did you do on your summer vacation, Jeff?

Xiao Qiang

Xiao Qiangis the Director of The China Internet Project at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley. Xiao Qiang is a theoretical physicist by training who became a full time human rights activist after the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. Xiao was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 2001

From Chelsea’s pre-interview notes

• Is China a threat? That depends on how you define threat– a new configuration of power can play out but it means some serious and thoughtful negotiating

• The US is being very OLD SCHOOL as far as not trusting China—they have to understand that China is still insecure and paranoid.

• China is rising in every aspect, it is changing the international landscape and the US has to accept this. If the US doesn’t like the fact that China is a dynamic country then yes, maybe it is a threat but that is not a productive way of looking at China.

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  • avecfrites

    To help us understand how likely China is to maintain its growth, I come up against these specific questions:

    1) What historical examples do we have of countries growing this fast, for this long? How did they end?

    2) What are the most likely scenarios for China falling off of its current track?

    3) If China’s growth does slow markedly, what happens next? Would it cause internal unrest sufficient to further slow growth, causing a negative feedback loop?

  • joel

    China’s population gets mentioned in any discussion of China, as already in the present case, but mention of its population’s growth rate seems to have faded from the consciousness. Can someone tell us how effective China’s “one child” attempt has been and, considering this, what rate of growth is to be expected in the foreseeable future?


  • Potter

    I have been trying to think of a way to justify asking you to spend an hour on Chinese Ceramics, the history of, the incomparable beauty of… I come to it as a potter. What a great way to learn Chinese history. But I cannot ask you to do that except as maybe part of a program that sticks it’s little toe into the vast sea of what we do not know about Chinese culture and history in general. The Chinese developed a very high level of ceramic science and aesthetics, in earthenware, stoneware and then porcelain, starting from about 5000 years ago.

    Chinese painting is an incredible world to enter. From there it’s natural to fall into their poetry, written by poet-painter-scholars.

    Here is one that blew me away from a scroll dated sometime between 1082 and 1135 A.D. ( in translation of course) attributed to Emperor Hui-Tsung:

    Luxuriant and fragrant the alcedine calyxes slant sideways

    Their radiant vigor fills the courtyard

    Soaked by beads of dew, they limp as drunkards;

    The scattered dew shines like melting snow.

    Among the reds and blues, it is hard to put down the brush;

    Only through creativity does one’s merit remain behind.

    Dancing butterflies are confused by fragrant pathways;

    Fluttering about they chase the evening breeze.

    ( the above I copied from a scroll on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on loan from the National Palace Museum Tapei– in March 1996)

    We seem to approach the Chinese as though we have so much to teach them about being civilized. I think we can also learn a lot from them. I think too they can learn a lot from their own history and culture

    Once again the guests, Jeff Sachs and Xiao Qiang were terrific.

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