On Valletta and Jeffrey Sachs

Church of Our Lady of Victory, Mellieha

Happy Birthday Robert Wood

My mother and I visited the fortified port of Valletta today. Aside from walking about in the centre of town, the group also took a boat cruise along the edge of the harbour, which divides into narrow sections like the fingers of two hands. Like Tallinn, Valletta has been subjected to a great many attacks and invasions, from different directions and in different periods. The ongoing strategic importance of a useful pair of islands in the middle of the Mediterranean is thereby demonstrated.

The city itself reminds me a great deal of the quieter parts of Rome. The streets are narrow and flanked by multi-story buildings with shuttered windows. Wild cats are numerous and fearless: sunning themselves and adding to the menace posed to Maltese birds by the many shooting clubs you can hear off in the countryside. The main cathedral is quite an unusual building, with a floor plan markedly different from that of any Christian church I can recall seeing, as well as a profusion of patterned wall sections composed of deep grooves cut in stone.

Today involved much less walking than the first day – a shortfall that it seems will be remedied tomorrow as we walk to and around the old capital of Rabat. I hope that the many photos I took over the course of the boat ride and wandering in Valletta will turn out well.

While I have been in Malta, I have been reading Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty. While it’s not the most well written book – his excess of exclamation marks is especially annoying – it is nonetheless one that strikes me as extremely important. The idea that we could eliminate the kind of extreme poverty that cuts people off from any chance of improving their lot and that of their children by 2025 is a profoundly inspiring and exciting one. It’s the kind of idea you really wish could take hold within the corridors of power and the hearts and minds of people in the developed world. It’s the kind of project that is enormously more important than any one life, or even the entire history of any one country. The imperative is to act as a collective in a way that humanity has never managed: to conjure the mechanisms by which bold ideas and conceptions of justice can be converted into reality out in the world. To be shown fairly convincingly that we have the power to end untold misery around the globe creates a real obligation to make good on that potential. It’s an effort that I hope to become a part of.

10 thoughts on “On Valletta and Jeffrey Sachs”

  1. PS. Because the strange internet cafe software in the hotel is causing serious problems with Java – and therefore both GMail and Blogger – I have been unable to respond to several messages that I otherwise would have.

    If they are yours, please have patience and remember that I am subject to the limitations of the technology at hand.

  2. Sasha and Oleh from Norcross Way are enjoying following you and Alena on your adventures in Milan. Thank you for your postings.

  3. you might want to search for Stiglitz’ “The end of the beginning of the end of world poverty” article…I haven’t read Sach’s book yet but personally, it would take quite an argument to persuade me that poverty will go by 2025.

    I believe it can be abolished, but won’t…world leaders and their lazy, apathetic constituents don’t give enough of a rat’s ass. And I’ll tell you three words we won’t be hearing from anyone starting around 2012: “Millenium Development Goals”.

    Anyways never mind me, I’m just depressed. Have fun in Malta.

  4. Kerrie,

    Sachs never claims that poverty will be ended by 2025. He claims that it could be, based on the 0.7% commitment that has already been made.

    The book is well worth reading.


  5. The 0.7 committment was made decades ago and has never been kept, except for a couple scandinavian countries. In fact Canada’s debate last year over whether to meet it was redundant because we had already promised but never kept it.

    That said, thanks for the recommendation, maybe I will read the book. If he is saying “can”, not “will”, then I am inclined to cautiously agree.

  6. Jeffrey Sachs criticises William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo over foreign aid.

    “The big opponents of aid today are Dambisa Moyo, an African-born economist who reportedly received scholarships so that she could go to Harvard and Oxford but sees nothing wrong with denying $10 in aid to an African child for an anti-malaria bed net. Her colleague in opposing aid, Bill Easterly, received large-scale government support from the National Science Foundation for his own graduate training.”
    Fight, fight, fight!

    Mr Easterly and Ms Moyo respond. Mr Easterly responds again.

  7. Economics focus
    The big push back
    Randomised trials could help show whether aid works

    IMAGINE you run a dirt-poor agricultural economy. Your farmers want to improve their soil but have no fertilisers, so you must either build a fertiliser factory or import the stuff. You will therefore need a port, dock workers, accountants and lawyers, roads and trucks to transport it, bankers to extend credit, and plastic bags to put the fertiliser in, necessitating plastics and packaging factories, too. Your farmers then need seeds and livestock, so you must have vets, market traders, construction companies to build barns and refrigeration systems. And you will need all this before your farmers put a seed in the ground.

    In development, it seems, you cannot do anything until you can do everything. That is the idea behind the “big push” theory. Outlined by Paul Rosenstein-Rodan in 1943, this says that even the simplest activity requires a network of other activities and that individual firms cannot organise such a large network, so the state or some other giant agency must step in.

    The big push came to grief in the 1970s and 1980s as evidence accumulated that, in Africa at least, public investment and foreign aid had produced no perceptible change in productivity, not least because so much of it was stolen. Recently, though, the idea has come back into vogue. The UN talks constantly about its millennium development goals (eight goals, 21 targets). Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University argues that if public investment and foreign aid are big enough, they will boost household incomes, spurring savings and boosting local investment. They should also “crowd in” external investment by improving infrastructure.

    Unlike most economists, Mr Sachs can put other people’s money where his mouth is. He set up the “millennium village project”, taking 14 places in rural Africa with about 500,000 people and, since 2006, making them the subjects of a $150m project run by his university and African governments.

  8. SIR – Contrary to the assertion in your recent Economics focus on using randomised trials to assess aid programmes, the Millennium Villages project in rural Africa is making timely progress towards the UN’s millennium development goals (MDGs) (December 3rd). The gains are on several fronts, including increased agricultural production and farm incomes, and reductions in disease burdens and hunger. The project is now halfway through its ten-year horizon, and we look forward to further gains in the second half as we work towards the MDGs. The second phase of the project emphasises business development through farmer co-operatives.

    You cited an unpublished study claiming little progress at the site in Kenya. That study has many methodological problems. One is obvious: the authors didn’t realise that some of their “control” villages actually received direct interventions from the Millennium Villages project.

    Ironically, the “negative” study confirms the large gains in agricultural productivity achieved by the Kenyan Millennium Village.

    Jeffrey Sachs
    Earth Institute at Columbia University
    New York

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