Thursday, August 21, 2008

A tour of Millennium Villages Project

Here is a nice narration of Millennium Villages Project, spearheaded by Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs' experiment-based grand plan is to pump in money, both from IFIs and private donors, to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. The success of the project depends on a lot of factors. The reporter sums it up pretty nicely:

Along with the UN Development Program, the Marshall Plan, and USAID, Sachs's project is one of the broadest and most ambitious human experiments ever launched. In some places it may well be of lasting importance. In others, it could fail utterly. It's all a matter of luck, politics, and hard work. Sachs is an expert on the last.

Here is how Sachs wants to scale the program up:

Pull one village up out of poverty, and then, as Sachs says all the time, you can "scale up" to more villages and, eventually, a whole country and perhaps, in time, a continent.

..There are essentially two dueling models of development in the aid community today. Sachs's idea is that with large infusions of money, villages will develop the means to link their own markets with larger, more globally connected markets in urban centers, leading to greater prosperity and at the same time allowing them eventually to assume the costs of the Millennium program innovations. In theory, local governments, having seen the advantages that the project brings, will also step in to help out—with improved programs, continuing financial support, and infrastructure maintenance. Meanwhile, Sachs and many other development experts believe that only huge donations of aid can help the desperately poor.

On the Russian mess:

"The reason shock therapy—as they call it—didn't work in Russia," he says, "was because the policies were not really carried out. People who criticize my work in these places don't read the data. They don't look at data because they are not interested and because, I am convinced, they can't read it. Whereas I live on data. I love data."

Indeed, some academics blame the failure of shock therapy in Russia on Sachs's reliance on statistics at the expense of sociology and politics. One well-known specialist on Russia, Stephen F. Cohen, then at Princeton, recalls plunking himself down next to Sachs on a plane headed for Moscow when Sachs was working with the Russian government. When Cohen asked him what he was reading about Russian history and current affairs, Sachs reportedly looked at him blankly and announced that economists did not need that kind of background, because, since the laws of economics were universal, data and statistics could tell them all they had to know.

Poverty-induced ignorance:

When Sachs gets up to speak ("President Jeff Sex," Toya's mayor announces), he has to explain the project to his listeners; a Malian translates the speech into Bambara, the nation's lingua franca. "I bring many partners who are interested in Toya," Sachs tells the silent crowd. "A movie star—you can see him on television, his name is Matt Damon." Around him the faces are blank. "The Secretary-General of the UN sends his good wishes." More blank faces: Damon and Ban Ki-moon, equally unknown quantities here. "And many international businesses want to help you," Sachs tells them. "A company called Sony, which makes computers, wants to give them to you." But what do they know of Sony or computers? He tells the crowd that there are "many exciting things we'll do together in the coming years." Among these he includes introducing new seed varieties, better irrigation, veterinary health care, fishing, a new ambulance, computers for the school, and even the development of tourism as a source of revenue. These are things the people understand better.

The long article is very descriptive. Nothing especially new stuff though!