A prominent US economist has criticized Western governments and the World Bank for failing to acknowledge the full potential of science, technology and innovation in alleviating global poverty.
The criticism has come from Harvard University professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for International Development and former director of the Harvard Institute for International Development. He told the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) last week that the World Bank's policies, based on the premise that open markets and good government would create growth in poor countries, were “vastly inadequate”.
“There's a huge missing piece” in conventional thinking about development, Sachs told the PCAST meeting. “That is the recognition that technological change is the main driver of economic growth, but that it doesn't emerge endogenously in tropical countries.”
The attack was on the World Development Report 2000/2001 — released by the World Bank on 12 September — which emphasizes “opportunity, empowerment and security” as the keys to poverty alleviation. “There's no recognition in this document of where the real problems lie,” he claimed.
Sachs proposed three ways to mobilize science and technology in developing countries: the direct transfer of technologies, such as vaccines, from rich countries; the spread of technology through the globalization of manufacturing; and the construction of science and technology development capacity in the developing countries themselves.
World Bank officials responded vigorously to the charges. Nora Lustig, director of the World Development Report at the World Bank, said in an interview that the importance of science and technology was repeatedly acknowledged in the document.
The World Bank is currently developing a new science and technology strategy. And supporters of science at the bank say they are gradually winning support for the idea that science and technology are vital to development, even in the poorest countries.