31 October 2008

Jeffrey Sachs at the Chicago Humanities Festival

First of all, my hat is off to anyone who can talk coherently for 45 extemporaneous minutes. No podium, no notes, no overheads. An amazing feat.

I really didn't know what to expect from Jeffrey Sachs; I was vaguely aware of him as someone who had "converted" from being a more free-market capitalism guy to a sustainable development guy.

There was no evidence of the free-market capitalism guy at last night's lecture. He spent the first 20 minutes or so of his talk trying to put the current financial crisis in context. He reminded us of the collapse of the Asian bubble in the late 1990s, the subsequent dot.com bubble, and the most recent real estate bubble. All interconnected--nothing about them should have been unpredictable.

From there, he segued into bubbles that he deemed more critical--the climate bubble, the population bubble, and the water scarcity bubble. When these burst, he pointed out, we won't just be looking at a recession.

He made a good case for pumping up our aid to impoverished parts of the world and taking a larger role in helping solve apparently intractable problems. He made connections between climate change, water scarcity, population explosion, and the situation in Darfur. He connected human encroachment on wildlife with the rise in diseases that cross from animals to people (including AIDS and SARS).

And all along the way he pointed to Tuesday's election as the first step to get real traction on these issues. He called Barack Obama "incredibly smart," which is something, coming from a guy who's clearly pretty darned smart himself.

Well, we are all hopeful. But of course the real work starts after Tuesday.

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