Friday, 17 April 2009

Does God believe in Jeff Sachs?

How can you not read a posting with a title like that?! The posting comes from William Easterly's blog Aid Watch. Easterly writes that although an Episcopalian he recently had a severe crisis of faith. When he attended a Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Manhattan there was one part of the liturgy the congregation was reciting in unison that caused him doubts.
The problematic prayer in the liturgy was: “The world now has the means to end extreme poverty, we pray we will have the will.”
Something tells me it may take a bit more that just praying to end world poverty. Easterly goes on
The first part is apparently meant as a statement of fact, which economists currently argue about (who is the world? Whose are the means? How does “the world” with those “means” actually end poverty?) The whole prayer seems to presume a particular approach to poverty: collective global action, which again economists argue about as being the right or the wrong approach to alleviate poverty. So why is God taking sides in a debate among economists?

This prayer was the brainchild of an Episcopal priest named Jay Lawlor, who prior to his ordination was an economist working for 10 years with – you guessed it – Professor Jeffrey Sachs. He now is the head of something called Millennium Congregations, which has an even stronger statement on its flyer:
At some point in the not too distant future benign neglect and callous disregard for the world’s extremely poor (living on under $1 a day) will become a crime against humanity and a sin against the Creator. This is the time to pray, advocate, and to take action. Promises have been made, and the time for debate is over because solutions now exist.
This is really bad news: having a debate with Jeff Sachs is now a sin against God.

Maybe this all happened after Jeff’s eloquent sermon at the Washington National Cathedral on September 11, 2005, where he was billed as “The Prophet of Economic Possibilities for the Poor.”
Somehow I don't think the time for debate is over, if the so-called solutions that now exist are the solutions of Jeffrey Sachs. On the contrary I think there is much to debate, the "solutions" that Sach puts forward have been questioned by many development economists, including Bill Easterly, and far from being the time to end debate it is the time to engage in it most strongly. The questions being asked are too important for debate to be stopped, by God or anyone else.

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