The Development Debate between Sachs, Easterly, and Moyo

The Development Debate between Sachs, Easterly, and Moyo

By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20160608


Regarding the debate on aid to Africa, one of the most compelling arguments made by Dambisa Moyo is that Jeffrey Sachs taught her at Harvard that “…the path to long-term development would only be achieved through private sector involvement and free market solutions” (Moyo 2011). From such foundation she argued, “there is no country – anywhere in the world – that has meaningfully reduced poverty and spurred significant and sustainable levels of economic growth by relying on aid” (Moyo 2011). She then pointed to the corruption, dependency, inflation, debt burden, and disenfranchisement that typically follow aid based strategies (Moyo 2011).

Indeed, the political leadership in Africa (and major portion of its public goods) was implanted by Western powers and does more to cater to the demands of aid organizations than the needs of the wider population (Moyo 2011). Finally, after examining Sachs’ strongest examples of countries that have benefited from aid, Moyo reiterated that these countries did so by adopting market based and job-creating strategies – not relying on long-term aid (Moyo 2011). Therefore, the student appeared to have fared better than the teacher by balancing her theoretical foundations with real world applicability. William Easterly (Economics Professor and author of White Man’s Burdern) agreed.

Sachs has seemingly contradicted his own teaching in interest of promoting the organizational agendas of the institutions he has been married to. More clearly, Moyo argued that Sachs applied his teaching (aid-dependency with no accompanying job creation is not effective for development) to Russia, Poland, and Bolivia, but ignored Africa (Moyo 2011). Doing so, in my opinion, proves to be theoretically flawed, logically inconsistent, and reveals a biased selection of case studies. In fact, it is this same theoretically flawed foundation that Professor Easterly, in an article entitled Geography Lessons: Correcting Sachs on African Economic Development, pointed to as being filled with too many “Ifs, Buts, and Excepts” (Easterly 2011).

For Easterly, poor governments stand in the way of economic development and Sachs’ insistence on theorizing this truism away or sidestepping the historical influence of colonialism on bad government in Africa today is evidence of academic dishonesty or confusion at best (Easterly 2011). Although Easterly disdained Sachs’ painting of African governments as “helpless victims of geography”, he seriously contended that Sachs’ untestable (lacking enough evidence) theories lead to “bad aid policy” (Easterly 2011). Undoubtedly, Sachs was forced to offer a strong rebuttal to such a stinging accusation, and thus, countered by acknowledging the impact of bad governments and history on development. He then detailed other factors that affect development and argued that geography remained relevant and Easterly and his colleagues had oversimplified the complexities of poverty (Sachs 2011). Easterly insisted that Sachs’ accusation of oversimplification stemmed from his inability to effectively address the impact of bad government on development (Easterly 2011).

Sachs offered the most complex array of development challenges, explaining them adequately, albeit, not entirely. In the second to last paragraph of his article entitled, Aid Ironies he offered an extensive list of the most effective kinds of aid efforts (Sachs 2011). Nevertheless, by failing to offer a strategy toward short-term development aid, ways to avoid aid dependency, create African jobs, and achieve sustainable economic growth he waxed guilty of the same accusation of oversimplification. That is, offering more aid could doubly be an ineffective silver bullet approach to the complex challenges of African development. In conclusion, as longs as Sachs remains incapable of denying that there are a variety of other factors besides a lack of aid impeding the development success in Africa, and Moyo continues to recognize that aid contributions are not producing sustainable economic growth there, Easterly and others will continue offering legitimate arguments against bad aid policies.

When one speaks of “standards”, I am not sure if that means the divisive strategy of offering aid as a reward to those African states most cooperative and willing to assist in the process of fulfilling U.S. policy objectives throughout Africa and the Middle East, or, the standard levels of aid offered to those who cooperate.

Simply put, I am situated between Sachs and Moyo where continued aid is monitored for effective results, cut off where it is not, and designed toward short-term assistance.

But, recognizing that several poli-scientific, and by extension, IR theoretical perspectives would produce a wide variety of policy perspectives, I would perhaps adopt a realist-oriented policy perspective. Then, given the apparent fixation on Africa’s arability for “terrorists havens”, I would summon the balance of power theory and would realize that a U.S. policy decision to “cut off all aid” would be antithetical to a strategy that allows pre and post-colonial gains to be maximized and could potentially threaten a reversal in the current levels of entrenchment into the political-economic and security affairs that have effectively undermined the sovereignty of African states. The latter, if allowed to go undisturbed works to increase U.S. hegemony.

Finally, similar to the conditions of welfare recipients in the U.S. at the individual level, Sachs argues that aid is necessary for development. This would prove true of any individual or state that is economically disadvantaged, but Moyo argues well that creating dependency through long-term aid strategies does more harm than good in terms of sustainable growth.

So then, genuine policy pursuits of economic development must prize private sector investment and aggressive trade opportunities over aid opportunities, and invest in the rule of law to destabilize the economic devastations of enduring corruption.

Sachs speaks like a donor looking for a market to donate in, whereas, Moyo speaks like a seasoned recipient who understands the wide range of motives that donors possess. Undoubtedly, being from Zambia she is familiar with the U.S. attempt to “aid” Zambia with GMO crops!

I have often witnessed two or three people in an argument get so wrapped in their own views they fail to realize they actually have more in common than conflict or essentially agree minus a few details. Likewise, I could see where Sachs made a logical argument regarding the negative impacts that could follow an abrupt discontinuation of aid and Moyo and Easterly never sharply disagreed. Their focus however was on the negative impacts of aid which Sachs seemed to avoid for the most parts or sidestep by telling his aid success stories. To me, he had much more vested interest in pushing whatever his true agenda was than the other two who seemingly sought to gain nothing but honest dialogue. Moyo, particularly, could have easily argued for aid considering she had received such herself. But she refused to allow Sachs’ low blow to distract her from the strong reality that she had been perfectly convinced to be true.

Although attacking the credibility of one’s opponent is a good way to gain ground, Sachs seemed to have done more damage to his footing than good, in my opinion. Arguing that aid is good for Africa because Moyo benefited from it seems childishly illogical. In contrast, Moyo’s acknowledgement that the benefit of one from aid could never justify an entire continent’s dependency on aid, reflected a much more seasoned and mature way of thinking. And as anyone could attempt to paint someone else as a hypocrite to gain credibility for themselves, not everyone is willing to risk being considered one by refusing to go along with the status quo. In this light, Moyo seemed to be much more genuine in her assessment of aid dependency in Africa. Nothing about her argument gained credibility from taking stabs at Sachs. In fact, she humbly acknowledged him as her professor and apparently paid attention in his class. Maybe Sachs should go back over his own material.

In the end: I sided with Easterly as he sided with Moyo toward whom Sachs’ argument was directed.



Easterly, William. Back to Sachs: Astrology, Despotism, and Africa. May 25, 2011. (accessed June 08, 2016).

—. Geography Lessons: Correcting Sachs on African Economic Development. May 25, 2011. (accessed June 28, 2016).

Moyo, Dambisa. Aid Ironies: A Response to Jeffrey Sachs. May 25, 2011. (accessed June 28, 2016).

Sachs, Jeffrey. Aid Ironies. May 25, 2011. (accessed June 08, 2016).

—. No Need to Oversimplify Poverty. May 25, 2011. (accessed June 08, 2016).


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