15 March 2006

There is nothing fiercer than an argument between two professors. Civil on the surface, but loaded with slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It doesn't matter that the argument is not relevant in real life. The point is making the point. And the point of the argument is that Professor Jeffrey Sachs is taking a different tack than Professor Jagdish Bhagwati. If you think that is not related to your U.N. work, look closer at your telephone directory and your daily journal. Professor Sachs is "Director, U.N. Millenium Project, U.N. Development Programme." Professor Bhagwati is "Special Adviser to the U.N. on Globalization" and a member of Secretary General Kofi Annan's advisory group on Africa. Both are anchored at Colombia University, New York. The one with the shorter title usually has more influence. The argument is about our pro bono Bono. It appears that the lead singer of "How to Dismantle an Atom Bomb" has made impressive inroads amongst world decision-makers and policy-makers. He accompanies Prime Ministers on trips to Africa; he lectures the high and mighty on development; and he holds concerts announcing that poverty is history. The upshot of it is that the Irish performer is now a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

While it is not clear whether Jeffrey Sachs supports Pro Bono Bono in his ultimate quest, he has been on his side on the glitterati circuit. It could be safely said that both share the same platforms. They seem to co-feed one another: one in substance, the other in form. The only difference is that while Bono is inclined to occasional lecturing, Jeffrey hardly sings in public.

Where Jagdish precisely comes in is to be determined in due course. But it got to a point where an editorial open letter in the Financial Times was in order. "I am afraid your energies have been misdirected," he proclaims, as if addressing both of the above. As if Bono was seeking the Nobel Prize for Economics, the clearly unhappy professor scolded him for basing his agenda on "obsolete and counterproductive premises." He suggests that "the large amount of aid given to Africa and the small results that generally accrued from them require us to look at the absorptive capacity question with a critical eye." In case that would not confuse our Irish crooner, Jagdish carried on: "If you have erred in allying yourself with the development experts (read my colleague Jeffrey!) who wrongly (aha) focus exclusively (does one focus inexclusively?) on aid spending in Africa itself, a greater folly is to have tied your initiative (which one, mate?) to the aid target of 0.7 percent of GNP." Could that target be part of the Millenium Goals, we wonder?

In a backhanded dig, the writer who opened by claiming fifty years of development work tells Bono: "I do not agree with those who write cynically that the poor have done more for the rock stars than the rock stars have done for the poor."

Does it mean that Bono is No Beuno? Which U.N. "adviser" should we heed? Who speaks for the U.N. on Development these days? Anyone at all? We tried to search through Ask Jeeves but discovered that the enterprising Barry Diller has bought it (for $1.85 billion) and changed its name to Ask.com, dropping Jeeves altogether. To whom should we turn to when the centre does not hold?