Click the above players to hear a speech by Jeffrey Sachs at the U.N. Millenium Summit held in Montreal in April 2009 and my interview with him following his speech. Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. In 2004 and 2005 he was named among the 100 most influential leaders in the world by Time Magazine.
He is also Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. From 2002 to 2006, he was Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed goals to reduce extreme poverty, disease, and hunger by the year 2015. Sachs is also President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty.
He is widely considered to be the leading international economic advisor of his generation. For more than 20 years Professor Sachs has been in the forefront of the challenges of economic development, poverty alleviation, and enlightened globalization, promoting policies to help all parts of the world to benefit from expanding economic opportunities and wellbeing. He is also one of the leading voices for combining economic development with environmental sustainability, and as Director of the Earth Institute leads large-scale efforts to promote the mitigation of human-induced climate change.
Click here to download the speech. (To download, right click and select “save link as…” or “save target as”).
MB: You’ve talked about the need for economic growth to alleviate poverty; you’ve talked about the looming population crisis; and you’ve also talked about the many environmental crises. How will it be possible to ensure a decent standard of living for everyone without overwhelming the resource constraints of the planet?
Sachs: One part of it is working to stabilize the world’s population. We are on a trajectory to exceed 9 billion people by mid-century. Part of the job of ending extreme poverty is to bring about a voluntary reduction in fertility rates. The second part is to combine economic growth and environmental sustainability, we need a change of basic technologies. We have to move from coal-fired power plants to renewable energy, nuclear, carbon sequestration and so on. We need to convert to systems that can sustain our living standards but in a way that is environmentally sustainable in order to mesh these two legitimate objectives. It can’t be a trade-off of one or the other. Third is global agreement on all of these objectives – on heading off dangerous climate change, on making family planning available to everybody but we don’t live up to those international agreements.
MB: Do you think our free market capitalist system as it is currently practiced is failing us and is in need of a fundamental restructure?
A free market economy is a text book myth. Markets can only function if they are properly integrated with good governance systems and good social support with vibrant non-governmental organizations. We’ve failed to understand that in the last quarter century. Too many people champion the free market cause, deregulated the financial system and nearly brought the world economy to ruin. People who were in the top of power like Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin played a role that has turned out to be very damaging. If we don’t have a strong government that is monitoring and regulating the economy and redistributing income to the poorest of the poor, and a civil society taking responsibility for the environment, we won’t have have a system that’s going to work. We have to rethink capitalism – I believe in capitalism – but not in the mythology of free market capitalism but in responsible capitalism that combines markets with effective public policy, a well-informed citizenry and a very active civil society.