Phelps, Sachs and Hubbard Weigh In on Rebuilding War-Torn Societies

Oct. 27, 2009Bookmark and Share
Columbia professors and other scholars gathered with diplomats and policy makers on Friday, Oct. 23 for a conference on how to effectively rebuild war-torn societies, with specific attention paid to Afghanistan and the continent of Africa.    
The “Peace Through Reconstruction” conference, presented by Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society and the Earth Institute, featured four panels on economic and policy guidelines as well as investment and community-based reconstruction strategies.
Participants in the conference from Columbia included Edmund Phelps, the McVickar Professor of Political Economy and the 2006 Nobel laureate in economics; Jeffrey Sachs, professor of sustainable development and director of the Earth Institute; and Glenn Hubbard, professor of finance and economics and dean of the Columbia Business School.
Among the other attendees were former ambassador John Negroponte, research fellow and lecturer at Yale University; former ambassador Richard Solomon, currently president of the U.S. Institute of Peace; economics professors William Easterly and M. Ishaq Nadiri of New York University; Roger Myerson, professor at the University of Chicago and the 2007 Nobel laureate in economics; and Graciana del Castillo, senior researcher at Columbia and associate director of the Center on Capitalism and Society.
In his opening remarks, Phelps spoke of the human and economic costs of war and the societal chaos that follows it. “Saving lives is not enough,” he said. “Lives must be worth living.”
Sachs discussed the importance of adjusting to the particular circumstances within each country. “We have to get down to specifics and cannot use the same words for all countries,” he said, “because they can mean very different things. In Darfur, there is nothing to reconstruct because nothing exists.”
In Afghanistan, said del Castillo, peace is on the wrong track. “Farmers have lacked incentives to produce crops other than growing poppies,” she said. Increases in troops will not be enough to address the resurgence of the Taliban—job creation, rather, is the key to a sustained peace.
Hubbard, author of The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty, noted that poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa is extensive despite contributions of more than $1 trillion in aid over the last forty years. He called for an initiative to encourage the development of local businesses in Africa that would resemble the so-called Marshall Plan, employed by General George C. Marshall to rebuild Europe in the wake of World War II.
“When Marshall spoke at Harvard in his commencement speech,” Hubbard said, “he said that it was really the breakdown of business during the war that was the problem that aid must solve. He was right.”