Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs is, if anything, controversial. Reviled by some (see, for example, the fifth comment down, from "trouble"), praised by others, he has moved from being a market-focused proponent of "shock therapy" for nations in economic trouble to the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Millennium Development Goals, and a passionate proponent of global efforts to eliminate poverty.
Indian business magazine The Smart Manager interviewed Sachs, and his discussion of India's current situation and likely potential touches on many issues we talk about frequently at WorldChanging, such as urbanization, the environment, rural technology, and the course of Indian development. The entire conversation is worth reading, regardless of which Sachs camp you fall into. I've selected some particularly interesting quotes for the extended entry.
On Agriculture and Technology:
Today one can help farmers identify when to plant through climate modelling. For example, better modelling of the monsoon cycle can be used to improve water reservoir management, irrigation practices and timing of crop planting.
Satellites or global positioning systems can help farmers identify where the exact nutrients are in the soil. So instead of using massive amounts of fertilizers which end up running into rivers and polluting the waterways besides being expensive waste for farmers, global positioning systems help farmers identify exactly where on their farms certain nutrients should be put, how to use less fertilizer and in which areas exactly it ought to be spread. [...]
Farmers need to have incentives to use scientific and technological inputs; they need to have access to high technology. That requires a significant governmental role.
On India vs. China:
China is eating your lunch. You should be doing what they are doing. They are creating millions of jobs in manufacturing and exports. Why isn't India doing it? [...] But China has some very, very serious problems. First, its political system is out of date, and out of sync with the modern bustling dynamic economies. A centrally ruled administrative state could make sense for a country of rice growing villages but it does not make sense for a modern dynamic economy.
[...]Both India and China have similar problems in environment, in the lack of proper social investment, in the challenges of catching up. The fact that China is ahead in the economic reforms means that India can learn from China in regard to a role in the world economy.
The fact that India is ahead in political decentralisation and democracy means that China has a lot to learn from India in that regard.
On India vs. the US:
By the mid century I think India could overtake US by absolute size. My rough back-of-the-envelope calculation says that by the mid century, if India manages the economy properly, and we do not make disasters on the international scene, India could have one-fourth the per capita income of the United States.
Combine that with roughly four times the population, and what you have is an economy bigger than the US economy. Now I think that this is not only possible, it is extraordinarily exciting and positive not just for India but the whole world.
The whole world would benefit fantastically from a dynamic, prosperous and scientifically productive India.
I'm sorry, this piece infuriates me.
"Unto them that hath shall be given, and they shall have abundance"....and this applies not just to the rich but also to the 'star economy' of academia which has benefited Sachs so greatly. Economists, sadly, tend to live in consequence-free environments. Sachs is the exemplar of this - why should we believe a word he says after what he did to Russia? Has he ever apologized for his role?
In general Keynes's phrase applies to all economists - that rather than see them as all-knowing seers of the economy, if they could get the same respect as, say, dentists, then that would be satisfactory.
Next time please post something from someone with actual real world experience who actually takes responsibility for his actions.