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The Hijacking of the Development Debate – an interesting analysis 1 January 2007

Posted by Nalaka Gunawardene in Globalization, Poverty, Science for Development, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized.

On the first day of the New Year, I came across an interesting analysis: 

The Hijacking of the Development Debate: How Friedman and Sachs Got It Wrong, by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

It opens thus: 

Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs — articulate, learned globetrotting pundits– would seem an unlikely duo to hijack the development debate. Yet, through their best-selling books — Friedman’s The World Is Flat and Sachs’s The End of Poverty — their prominent exposure in the U.S. media, and endorsements by celebrities like Bono, the superstar lead singer of the rock group U2, they have done precisely that.

It closes with the following summing up:

Jeffrey Sachs and Thomas Friedman must be given some credit for embracing the idea ofending poverty and spreading prosperity, and for bringing these issues to wider public notice. Yet by basing their arguments on simplistic myths, they have hijacked the development debate. The well-meaning rock stars, government leaders, billionaires, and civil society organizations that have jumped on the Sachs/Friedman aid-and-trade band-wagon would do well to embrace the development alternatives that are being put forward by the alter-globalization movement. If they do so, the goal of “ending poverty” may actually be achievable.

I found this paper food for thought. Full text accessible at: http://www.ifg.org/pdf/Broad%20Cavanagh.pdf

Robin Broad is professor in the International Development Program of the School of International Service at American University, Washington, DC, and the author, most recently, of Global Backlash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy. John Cavanagh is director of the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC, and board chair of the International Forum on Globalization. He is the co-editor (with Jerry Mander) of Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible.

In an op ed essay published in SciDev.Net in September 2005 titled ‘Simpler words are needed to get MDG message across’, I had referred to the communications value of both Bono and Sachs. Excerpt:

All development workers and UN officials should take a simple test: explain to the least technical person in your office the core message and relevance of your work. Many jargon-using, data-wielding, acronym-loving development workers would probably fail this test. But unless development-speak is translated into simpler language, the MDGs will remain a buzzword confined to development experts and activists.

Unless, that is, we find a quick and cheap way of cloning musicians such as Bob Geldof and Bono. With some help from fellow entertainers, these two celebrities have, though the recent Live Aid concerts, managed to generate mass attention to banishing poverty in a way that poverty studies experts could never accomplish. The main reason: they spoke the universal language of music.

The world needs both the hair-splitting technical experts who study problems in depth and detail, and good communicators who take on headline concerns and turn them into popular campaigns. Jeffrey Sachs and Bono make a good pair.

Full essay archived at: http://www.scidev.net/Editorials/index.cfm?fuseaction=readEditorials&itemid=170&language=1



1. Sandra - 6 January 2007

I agree there is some ‘star power’ in people like Bono and Geldof and they are sincerely applying that for creating a better world. But I would not categorise Jeffrey Sachs in the same league. He is a very smart, articulate and ambitious academic who is unashamedly an apologist for free-market globalisation. He probably has his eye on the Nobel Prize for economics, and wants to do the politically correct things to impress the Nobel selectors, but his track record in advising developing countries and economies in transition is as a ruthless free market advocate. He might dispense economics a bit more cautiously than the World Bank/IMF duo, but at the end of the day he is on the same side, despite his attempts to set himself apart.

I fully agree that Sachs has hijacked the development debate. He is like a modern-day Pied Piper of Hamlyn — shame on the development community to have allowed themselves to be lulled and lured by a smooth-talking, agenda-setting academic like Jeffrey Sachs. I hope the Broad-Cavanagh paper will wake up at least a few of these people who are in awe of Sachs.

Thanks for posting this paper. It is an eye-opener.

2. torchwolf - 8 January 2007

Obviously people who take a different view than Sachs might consider the prominence of his views as “hijacking the debate” and taking it from where they think it should be.

In the same way that the Pope would think people campaigning for condom-use are “hijacking the AIDS prevention debate” from where it should rightfully be.

Frankly, what have the likes of Broad and Kavanagh actually achieved for the poor?

A drib here and a drab there, in all their decades of debate, maybe?

3. marco - 7 September 2007

BONOVOX -Words from the apprentice God.

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