Economist Jeffrey Sachs has been at the forefront of global economic policy for close to four decades. He’s helped countries transition from communism to capitalism—with varying degrees of success—and advised the United Nations on programs promoting sustainable economic growth and the alleviation of poverty. He’s also directed the Earth Institute at Columbia University and is the author of eight mass-market books on poverty, wealth, and sustainability. In his latest, A New Foreign Policy, he focuses on America’s international relations. Alongside an angry condemnation of Trumpism, Sachs offers a set of progressive policy solutions that he believes can put all people, not just Americans, first.
—Atossa Araxia Abrahamian
AAA: You’re an economist. Why foreign policy, and why now?
JS: Foreign policy is at a point of complete crisis with Trump’s deliberate attempt to smash international rules and to start a new Cold War with China. It’s an attempt at a fascist-like type of American exceptionalism, and it’s extraordinarily dangerous.
AAA: This notion of national sovereignty comes up over and over again in Trump’s speeches. What does sovereignty even mean today?
JS: Sovereignty, for Trump, is like a child having a tantrum saying, “You can’t tell me what to do.” He doesn’t care about or pay attention to America’s attacks on other countries, or the fact that we have the CIA and other military operations in many parts of the world, or that our greenhouse-gas emissions are contributing to the ongoing wreckage of the planet. Clearly, he’s a man who does not believe in rules. That’s applied to his personal life, and it applies to his ideas about sovereignty.
AAA: You compare Trump’s “short-termism” to the likes of Hugo Chávez. What does that look like in practice?
JS: I’ve been watching Latin American populists for a long time, and governments repeatedly go broke because they spend their reserves, then borrow heavily, and then they can’t repay. Trump has the [same] incapacity for delayed gratification. This is basically what he’s doing with the United States right now: He’s living on the high of a $2 trillion corporate-tax cut.
AAA: As an internationalist, is there any movement you’re excited about?
JS: In a moment of lucidity in 2015, 195 governments agreed on a framework of sustainable development and climate control. Those agreements are very fragile, because they’re under assault by Trump. Yet around the world, governments, civil society, academia, scientists, and businesses are trying to push toward sustainable development.
AAA: Another issue that requires global cooperation is the fight against tax havens. Where are we?
JS: We’re nowhere. Not only do we have $20–$30 trillion in these tax havens, but it’s our big banks that facilitate them. And it’s not like the money is actually in the Cayman Islands; the money is in electronic accounts in our banks. We can know where all that money is moving now—we just choose not to know.
AAA: The cliché is that as people get older, they start to lean to the right. That certainly doesn’t sound like it’s happened to you. Why?
JS: No! Our situation here is so far from what we should have. Things like Medicare for all, which is taken as this “Oh my God, how could this be done? How radical!” issue, is the standard in every other high-income country, including Canada. We’ve deviated so far from common sense.
AAA: What’s your advice for young political candidates today?
JS: My advice is to keep going for it, because the young candidates are telling the truth. There’s a lot of fearmongering, of course, from The Wall Street Journal, from Murdoch media, and every week Murdoch says, “Don’t be like Europe!” I go to Europe twice a month, and Europe is wonderful—especially northern Europe, which is prosperous, fair, technologically advanced, and with paid vacation time, family support, and all the other things that progressives are calling for right now.
AAA: Does this mean you’ll be joining the Democratic Socialists of America?
JS: I am supporting Alexandria [Ocasio-Cortez]. I’ve been working with the Congressional Progressive Caucus for quite a while on this People’s Budget, and want to continue to develop that. I can make a contribution of getting the numbers in place and showing that this is completely feasible and it’s completely what the American people would actually like.