Tuesday 2015-05-12

From Jeffrey Sachs' conversation with Tyler Cowen:

In 1989, I made recommendations for Poland. I said several unusual things, like “Don’t pay your debts, get debt cancellation. You need emergency, a billion dollars on this date,” and so forth. Everything I recommended actually ended up happening with US government support.

Then in Russia two years later I was asked by Gorbachev and then by Yeltsin to help them, because they saw what was happening in Poland. They liked that. They wanted something similar. So I said exactly the same things, and the US government kept saying, “No, no way, no way.” I kept saying, “But that kept working there.”

I didn’t understand it in some deep sense for a long, long time, how weird this was. I knew it wasn’t the difference of economic advice. I understand what a financial crisis is.

TYLER COWEN: Culturally weird, you mean.

JEFFREY SACHS: No, how weird it was in the historical moment that things that had worked extremely well, had shown themselves, where I had had Brent Scowcroft and Bob Dole and others strongly supporting it, all of a sudden just no support from Washington. The IMF saying, “We’re not going to do this.” I said, “But, Richard Urban, you did that two years ago in Poland.” “We’re not going to do it.” “Why?” Flat.

OK. What’s the lesson of this? Quite important, actually. It’s a little bit off-topic, but very important. We didn’t want to help Russia in 1991. We wanted our unipolar world. I didn’t know that at the time. For me, I wanted to help Russia. This is a chance for freedom, democracy, market economy, normalcy. Yeltsin defined, he said December 11, when I met him the first time, 1991, “We want to be a normal country.” I said, “I will help you, Mr. President.”

We didn’t want that in this country. What I didn’t understand was everything I said about Poland was immediately accepted because it was good advice and because Poland was going to be a bulwark of NATO. Everything I said about Russia didn’t matter whether it was good advice or not. Russia was on the other side.