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Sachs-Easterly cease fire broken, aid war of words breaks out on Twitter

An approximate visual representation of the fierce Easterly-Sachs debate.

(The Aid World) – A strike from Bill Easterly on Jeff Sachs reignited the years-long aid debate at a time when the humanitarian civil war looked to have calmed.

Easterly’s article, which contended Sachs’ approach to fighting poverty has failed, appeared in the Libertarian news site, Reason, and has precipitated a skirmish on the hallowed grounds of Twitter.

Fighting has again taken over in the aid world between the ethnic Sachsians and the Easterlyites. Humanitarian organizations say that they are unable to gain access to aid world because of the fighting.

“The situation on the ground is still tenuous,” said Earnest Careworn of Aid for Aid Debates. “We are concerned that a protracted debate will lead to excessive cynicism and no changes to the aid industry.”

The Sachs camp suffered a difficult 2013 campaign with the publication of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by journalist Nina Munk. After years of reporting on the Sachs-led Millennium Villages Project (MVP), Munk assembled a critical book showing some of the shortcomings and failures of the program. Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, and his defenders dismissed the book as telling an incomplete story of the MVP.

His opponents championed the work as a fatal blow to a long-failing program meant to lift people in Africa out of poverty. Bill Easterly, an academic at NYU and long Sachs foe, blogged a review of the book at Reason, in October. He praised the book and championed the failure of Sachs’s ideas.

“Eight and a half years later, I take no pleasure in the defeat of Sachs’ big ideas, especially as this failure involves the sufferings of those who were the subjects of the Millennium Villages Project,” wrote Easterly.

The review garnered little attention by the anti-Sachs camp until it was expanded for the January edition of the magazine. The provocative title declared the aid debate to be over.

“[Sachs’s] idea that aid could rapidly bring the end of poverty was wrong. It’s time to move on,” concluded Easterly.

Many months after the publication of Munk’s book and just when Sachs though he was in the clear, a new offensive appeared on the horizon. Sachs deployed a more aggressive strategy to  surprise the surprise attack by responding to people sharing the review on Twitter. Tentative Tweets on Monday night fooled the inhabitants in Aid World that it might blow over.

Known for its ability to host lively debates devoid of any substance and nuance, Twitter served as fertile ground for an extended back and forth between Sachs, his defenders and his critics. By Tuesday morning, the people of Aid World woke up to a full scale aid debate between Sachs and his critics.

The following is an account of what happened.

Reader Warning: Beware of unsubstantiated claims, strange Twitter language and little actual discourse.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]