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Jeffrey Sachs on Russia

Today the FT posted an amusing interview with rockstar economics professor Jeffrey Sachs, who makes some brief comments about Russia.

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Sachs: “I don’t lose huge sleep over Latin America – it’s at peace, it’s not riven by terrorism, it’s democratic and it has made huge strides in human development. What have been hugely unequal and divided societies are becoming slowly more equal, and even very deep ethnic and racial divisions are being ameliorated through democratic politics.” The same cannot be said about Russia, I say. Sachs replies by telling me how Poland was a case of successful reform, which has now led to a normal country embraced within the European Union. How did it achieve success? ”The essence of what they wanted to do was right, it was based on sound fundamentals. What I tried to do was to add the economics to go around it.” I am pleased to note he credits Poland’s geography and attitude primarily for its success. I bring the subject round to Russia again. ”I advised Russia for two years from December 1991 to January 1994,” Sachs says defensively. ”It was an extremely frustrating period for me.” The problem, he says, was not that good ideas were tried and failed, but that neither the US nor the powerful elites in Russia wanted to try sensible economic reforms. The US, he says, failed because it wanted a weak Russia, while the Kremlin’s corrupt efforts to stop the communists’ re-emergence in the mid 1990s led to the transfer of the Russian state’s assets into the hands of a tiny elite. ”When I watch all of this now,” Sachs says, ”it is the legacy of disengagement of serious reform, the triumph of politics over economics.” He is warming to a theme that forms the backbone of his thinking on almost every issue – good economic solutions will work if only politics doesn’t get in the way.

Yeah, right. Economics without politics. As a friend and RA reader commented to me, that last line basically translates as: “”I could fly if only gravity stopped rearing its stupid head.”