Profile of Jeff Sachs

IMF’s quarterly publication Finance and Development makes a point to profile some or the other top economist.

This time it is Jeff Sachs of Columbia Univ. Superb reading. He chose Harvard economics over Harvard Law School:

Sachs was born in Detroit in 1954. His family’s roots are in Grodno, once part of Poland and then of the Soviet Union. His father was a prominent labor attorney who was active in U.S. Democratic Party politics. His sister, Andrea, recalls that their father always reminded them “to do good while you are doing well.” After considering becoming a lawyer like his father, he turned down Harvard’s law school in favor of its economics department. It was to become his home for 30 years.

As an undergraduate he completed all the course requirements for a doctorate in economics. In 1982, he published a paper in the profession’s leading technical journal, Econometrica, titled “Multiple Shooting in Two-Point Boundary Value Problems.” It’s true he had some help on the paper; his coauthors were David Lipton, now the IMF’s first deputy managing director; Jim Poterba, now president of the National Bureau of Economic Research (the preeminent U.S. economic research organization); and Larry Summers, former U.S. treasury secretary and former president of Harvard. Even among such a talented cohort at Harvard, Sachs stood out, which the university recognized by giving him tenure at age 28.

What singled out Sachs, however, was not just his technical brilliance but also his interest in tackling the pressing economic issues of the day, formulating solutions, and lobbying for their adoption. Paul Krugman, the economics Nobel laureate, once wrote that “what sets Jeff apart is that he is a first-rate theorist who is also a major political force. It’s a pretty amazing combination.”

It goes on to explain Sachs’s various projects around the world on development and transition…


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