Jeff Sach’s Millennium Village project

There are two current pieces on Jeff Sach’s Millennium Village project; the first is in Harper’s, the second and far superior, by Sam Rich, is in The Wilson Quarterly (I don’t see the article on-line yet).  Rich reports the following about the village of Sauri, Kenya:

1. Every year the project invests about $100 for each of the 5000 village inhabitants.

2. The villagers are much healthier now and the schools are better.

3. Some babies in the village have been named "Millennium."

4. The subsidies of the project have pushed villagers into high-risk crops and possibly depleted the soil.

5. Many of the giveaways, such as fertilizer, are simply resold on external markets.

6. The creation of a committee for allocating project resources has weakened the village’s government and in effect created a more powerful shadow government in the village.

7. People who live or work in the village have financial incentives not to speak honestly about what is going on there.

8. Witchcraft still plays a major role in village elections and decisions.

9. It is not clear what will happen when the project ends in three years’ time.  Or should I say it is clear?

In my view Sach’s work is admirable and will do much to improve the lives of a small percentage of Africans.  But I do not think it is scalable.  First, I believe the candidate villages are cherry-picked for possible improvement.  Armed conflict remains a huge problem on the continent.  Second, one key non-scalable ingredient is Sachs himself.  His reputation is worth a great deal to him, and these projects will receive scrutiny and study; he has strong incentives to make sure everything goes as well and as honestly as possible.  That incentive vanishes once we implement such ideas on a bigger scale and through other institutions.  File this one under "Wonderful but oversold."


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