Rise of the Flexians

By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad

May 26, 2010 (IPS) – In 2005, ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Irish rock star and philanthropist Bono dedicated a concert to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs for his services to global poverty alleviation. Time magazine twice named Sachs one of its 100 Most Influential People. His 2005 book “The End of Poverty” was a New York Times bestseller. He has served as a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals. In 2007 Vanity Fair was moved to declare him the “savior of Bolivia”.

From the fawning sobriquets it would be hard to tell that Sachs was the architect of the “economic shock therapy” which in Russia during the transition years (1991-1994) contributed to a 42 percent rise in male deaths, and 56 percent in unemployment. His Bolivian “reforms” brought inflation under control but unemployment, inequality and the cost of living soared.Following a decade of unrest, Russia was only saved by an authoritarian nationalist leadership and Bolivia by economic populism. The neoliberal experiment was a failure.

If Sachs has today recanted his extreme free-market views, it is only because of a personal epiphany. At the peak of his power, he was constrained by neither public censure nor official accountability.He is an exemplar of a new breed of influencers who operate in the interstices of official and private power and exploit the ambiguity of their multiple overlapping roles to evade both public oversight and market competition. It is this emerging power that is the subject of social-anthropologist Janine Wedel’s indispensable “Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market”.

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