Originally one of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University, Sachs became renowned for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization. He has authored numerous books and articles on these subjects, including The End of Poverty and Common Wealth, both New York Times bestsellers. He has been named one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" several times.
Sachs lives in New York City with his wife Sonia Ehrlich Sachs, a pediatrician. They have three children.
During the next 19 years at Harvard, he became the Galen L. Stone Professor of International Trade, the Director of the Harvard Institute for International Development at the Kennedy School of Government (1995-1999), and the Director of the Center for International Development (1999-2002).
After the Center for International Development failed to attract sustainable funding or broad scholarly involvement, Sachs resigned from Harvard in March 2002 to become the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City. He is currently the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and he is also a professor for Columbia's Department of Economics and Department of Health Policy and Management. His classes are taught at the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.
Sachs is known for his work as an economic advisor to governments in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. A trained macroeconomist, he led many countries in the transition from communism to market economies.
In 1985, Bolivia was undergoing hyperinflation and was unable to pay back its debt to the International Monetary Fund. Sachs, an economic advisor to the Bolivian government at the time, drew up an extensive plan, later known as shock therapy, to drastically cut inflation by liberalizing the Bolivian market, ending government subsidies, eliminating quotas, and linking the Bolivian economy to the US Dollar. After Sachs' plan was implemented, inflation fell from 20,000% per year to 11%.
In 1990, the Polish government introduced shock therapy to break from communism. Sachs and ex-IMF economist David Lipton advised the rapid conversion of all property and assets from public to private ownership. After initial economic shortages and inflation, prices in Poland eventually stabilized.
In late 1991, the Russian government invited Harvard to give advice on reproducing the Polish success. Harvard economist Andrei Shleifer advised President Yeltsin on privatization and macroeconomic issues during the early stages of Russia's reforms. Sachs resigned shortly thereafter.
More recently, Sachs has turned to global issues of economic development, poverty alleviation, health and aid policy, and environmental sustainability. He has written extensively on climate change, disease control, and globalization, and is one of the world's leading experts on sustainable development.
In his 2005 work, The End of Poverty, Sachs wrote that "Africa's governance is poor because Africa is poor." According to Sachs, with the right policies and key interventions, extreme poverty – defined as living on less than $1 a day – can be eradicated within 20 years. India and China serve as examples, with the latter lifting 300 million people out of extreme poverty during the last two decades. Sachs believes a key element to accomplishing this is raising aid from $65 billion in 2002 to $195 billion a year by 2015. He emphasizes the role of geography and climate, with much of Africa suffering from being landlocked and disease-prone. However, he stresses that these problems can be overcome.
Sachs suggests that with improved seeds, irrigation, and fertilizer, the crop yields in Africa and other places with subsistence farming can be increased from 1 ton/hectare to 3-5 tons/hectares. He reasons that increased harvests would significantly increase the income of subsistence farmers, thereby reducing poverty. Sachs does not believe that increased aid is the only solution. He also supports establishing credit and microloan programs, which are often lacking in impoverished areas. Sachs has also advocated the distribution of free insecticide-treated bed nets to combat malaria. The economic impact of malaria has been estimated to cost Africa US$12 billion per year. Sachs estimates that malaria can be controlled for US$3 billion per year, thus suggesting that anti-Malaria projects would be an economically justified investment.
From 2002 to 2006, Sachs was the Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to then Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals. Sachs founded the Millennium Villages Project, a plan dedicated to ending extreme poverty in various parts of sub-Saharan Africa through targeted agricultural, medical, and educational interventions. Along with philanthropist Ray Chambers, Sachs founded Millennium Promise, a nonprofit organization, to help the Earth Institute fund and operate the Millennium Villages Project.
Now a Special Advisor to current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Sachs is still a leading advocate for the Millennium Development Goals, frequently meeting with foreign dignitaries and heads of state. He has also become a close friend of international celebrities Bono and Angelina Jolie, both of whom have traveled to Africa with Sachs to witness the progress of the Millennium Villages.
Sachs has been a consistent critic of the IMF and its policies around the world. He has blasted the international bankers for what he sees as a pattern of ineffective investment strategies.
Some economists view Sachs' policies as dangerously naïve. One of his strongest critics is William Easterly, a professor of economics at New York University. Easterly reproached The End of Poverty in his review for The Washington Post, and Easterly's 2006 book White Man's Burden is an even more thorough rebuttal of Sachs's argument that poor countries are stuck in a "poverty trap" from which there is no escape, except by massively scaled-up foreign aid. Easterly presents statistical evidence that he claims proves that many emerging markets attained their higher status without large amounts of foreign aid as Sachs proposes.
Daniel Ben-Ami, writing for the British Internet magazine Spiked, has criticized Sachs from an opposite perspective to Easterly. Ben-Ami argued in a review of The End of Poverty that Sachs' views represent an acceptance that underdevelopment is here to stay. He argues that despite Sachs' "grandiose rhetoric," his goal is the long-term eradication of extreme poverty rather than the economic development and transformation of Third World nations. Ben-Ami also argued that Sachs' 2007 BBC Reith Lecture embodied low horizons for the poor.
Another person to criticize Sachs is Amir Attaran, a scientist and lawyer and currently the Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development at the University of Ottawa. Sachs and Attaran have worked closely as colleagues, including coauthoring a famous study in The Lancet documenting the dearth of foreign aid money to fight HIV/AIDS in the 1990s, which led to the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. However, Sachs and Attaran part company in their opinion of the Millennium Development Goals, and Attaran argued in a paper published in PLoS Medicine and an editorial in the New York Times that the United Nations has misled people by setting specific, but immeasurable, targets for the MDG's (for example, to reduce maternal mortality or malaria). Sachs dismissed that view in a reply to PLoS Medicine by saying that only a handful of the MDG's are immeasurable, but Attaran then cited the United Nations' own data analysis (which the UN subsequently blocked from public access) showing that progress on a very large majority of the MDG's is never measured.
Sachs has also been criticized by socialist feminists for having a too neoliberal a perspective on the economy. Nancy Holmstrom pointed out in a 2000 article that, in advising implementation of his shock therapy on the collapsing Soviet Union, Sachs "supposed the transition to capitalism would be a natural, virtually automatic economic process: start by abandoning state planning, free up prices, promote private competition with state-owned industry, and sell off state industry as fast as possible…" Holmstrom goes on to cite the drastic decreases in industrial output over the ensuing years, a nearly halving of the country's GDP and of personal incomes, a doubling of the suicide rate, and a skyrocketing unemployment rate. Canadian activist Naomi Klein argues in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism that Sachs' Bolivian "success" is not clearly true. In her analysis, the radical reforms pushed by Sachs were neither democratically agreed upon nor achieved without violent state repression, and in her opinion, left the majority of Bolivians in far worse circumstances.
Sachs made an interesting point at the United Nations: "Some people might have thought 10 million children dying every year is an emergency, some people might have thought a food crisis is an emergency, but no it isn't an emergency. Africa needs a failing bank, clearly" (http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/09/23/perry.iraq.a.barometer.cnn)
Sachs is the recipient of many awards and honors. In 2004 and 2005, he was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine. He was also named one of the "500 Most Influential People in the Field of Foreign Policy" by the World Affairs Councils of America.
In February 2002, Nature Magazine stated that Sachs "has revitalized public health thinking since he brought his financial mind to it." In 1993 he was cited in the New York Times Magazine as "probably the most important economist in the world." In 1994, Time Magazine called him "the world's best-known economist." In 1997, the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur cited Sachs as one of the world's 50 most important leaders on globalization.
In 2005, he received the Sargent Shriver Award for Equal Justice. In 2007, Sachs was awarded the Padma Bhushan, a high civilian honor bestowed by the Government of India. Also in 2007, he received the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution International Advocate for Peace Award as well as the Centennial Medal from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for his contributions to society.
From 2000 to 2001, Sachs was Chairman of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health of the World Health Organization, and from 1999 to 2000 he served as a member of the International Financial Institution Advisory Commission established by the U.S. Congress. Sachs has been an advisor to the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Health Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations Development Program. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Society of Fellows, the Fellows of the World Econometric Society, the Brookings Panel of Economists, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Board of Advisors of the Chinese Economists Society, among other international organizations.
Sachs has received honorary degrees from Pace University, the State University of New York, Cracow University of Economics, Ursinus College, Whitman College, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Ohio Wesleyan University, the College of the Atlantic, Southern Methodist University, Simon Fraser University, McGill University, Southern New Hampshire University, St. John's University, Iona College, University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, the Lingnan College of Hong Kong, and the University of Economics Varna in Bulgaria.
Sachs is first holder of the Royal Professor Ungku Aziz Chair in Poverty Studies at the Centre for Poverty and Development Studies at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for 2007-2009. In addition, he holds an honorary professorship at the Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. He has lectured at the London School of Economics, the University of Oxford, and Yale University, as well as in Tel Aviv and Jakarta.
In September 2008, Vanity Fair magazine named Sachs to its list of 100 members of the New Establishment. Sachs ranks 98th on the list.
Sachs is the author of hundreds of academic articles and many books, including two New York Times bestsellers: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time (Penguin, 2005) and Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (Penguin, 2008).
He currently writes a monthly foreign affairs column for Project Syndicate, a nonprofit association of newspapers around the world that is circulated in 145 countries. He is also a frequent contributor to major publications such as the Financial Times, Scientific American, and Time Magazine.