Chris Blattman

The anti-Ayn Rand

Tyler Cowen’s review of The End of Poverty (the documentary) is, well, crushing:

I can only report that The End of Poverty, narrated throughout by Martin Sheen, puts Ayn Rand back on the map as an accurate and indeed insightful cultural commentator. If you were to take the most overdone and most caricatured cocktail-party scenes from Atlas Shrugged, if you were to put the content of Rand’s “whiners” on the screen, mixed in with at least halfway competent production values, you would get something resembling The End of Poverty. If you ever thought that Rand’s nemeses were pure caricature, this film will show you that they are not (if the stalking presence of Naomi Klein has not already done so). If you are looking to benchmark this judgment, consider this: I would not say anything similar even about the movies of Michael Moore.

See the film website for a viewing. Hat tip to the ever reliable MoLT.

The film shares the name of Jeff Sachs’ now famous volume. I only know Sachs as his former teaching assistant (which is to say not at all). But I did teach for him the year he wrote End of Poverty. My sense is that there are two Jeff Sachs. I mean this in the same sense that a political theory prof once told me there are two Marx’s: the “sophisticated Marx” of the Eighteenth Brumaire, offering a nuanced and thoughtful view of French history; and the “vulgar Marx” of the Communist Manifesto, a simplistic screed appropriate for the masses.

The End of Poverty strikes me as Sachs’ Manifesto–a tool for grassroots mobilization. The film is an extension of that campaign. I think there exists, but still await, Sachs’ Eighteenth Brumaire

Update: A commenter suggests that Sachs had nothing to do with the movie. Is this true? If so, apply the above comments to the book, not the movie. If Tyler is right, it sounds like the former is much better than the latter.

Update 2: I now have it on good authority that Sachs had nothing to do with the film. How did they get away with the title? It’s actually The End of Poverty? and not The End of Poverty. Crafty buggers. Poor Jeff. He’ll suffer in the eyes of so many even more now.

4 Responses

  1. There are two Jeffrey Sachs: the one who fucked up half of the known world with liberalization and the one who is trying to repent for his sins by pushing for massive amounts of aid transfers.

    Also, it sounds like your political theory professor was an elitist idiot.


    This seems to have nothing at all to do with Jeff Sachs.

    The sponsors include the Robert
    Schalkenbach Foundation (RSF) …”to promote public awareness of the social philosophy and economic reforms advocated by Henry George.”

  3. Tyler’s review was fabulous, wasn’t it?

    I’ve been curious also about the two Jeffrey Sachs you mention. I worked, well, not exactly with, but along side him in advising the Polish government on privatization in 1991. And, again, along side him in Russia a couple of years later. The sophisticated Sachs I saw there was quite thoughtful and capable of subtlety and aware more of what he knew and what he didn’t know. He knew a hell of a lot about macro policy and stabilization…rather less about privatization (for example). In Russia he weighed in very little on the various policy questions related to privatization.

    Unfortunately, the Sachs who emerged in global health is completely, but completely, different. Much closer to the “vulgar Marx” personality you’ve described. All the subtlety, all the awareness of hard choices, in low information, scarce resource environments is gone. All the willingness to discuss the pluses and minuses of different options (given that we certainly don’t know THE answer) is just gone. The answers are now OBVIOUS. And he sees them clearly. Much more so than people who have been working in the field much much longer. And those who might have a different opinion, they are ignorant at best, malintentioned at least. I’ve often wondered what happened, and wished the old Sachs would come back. Global health would gain much from his return.

  4. I might be wrong, but I don’t think Jeffrey Sachs has anything to do with this movie…

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