Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid

An investigation of Sachs’s schizophrenic career, and the worldwide havoc he has caused.
Jeffrey Sachs is a man with many faces. A celebrated economist and special advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he is also no stranger to the world of celebrity, accompanying Bono, Madonna and Angelina Jolie on high-profile trips to Africa. Once notorious as the progenitor of a brutal form of free market engineering called "shock therapy," Sachs now positions himself as a voice of progressivism, condemning the "1 per cent" and promoting his solution to extreme poverty through the Millennium Villages Project.

Appearances can be deceiving. Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid is the story of an evangelical development expert who poses as saviour of the Third World while opening vulnerable nations to economic exploitation. Based on documentary research and on-the-ground investigation, Jeffrey Sachs exposes Mr. Aid as no more than a new, more human face of Dr. Shock.


  • “Once famous for bleeding the economies of Poland, Russia and Bolivia, and now famous for handing out Band-Aids in sub-Saharan Africa while proclaiming a reinvention of development, Jeffrey Sachs is the master of having it both ways. In this excellent, highly readable book, Japhy Wilson dissects the man, his ideas, his context and the damage that Sachs and his ilk have inflicted on so many...Anyone concerned with the crisis of global capitalism should have this book.”
  • “Neoliberalism has adopted many guises and apostles in the several decades of its history. Some even appear to have experienced road-to-Damascus conversions. This focused book demonstrates that those who oppose the neoliberal blight ought to be careful whom they choose as an ally.”
  • “A powerful and nuanced critique of Sachs's involvement in neoliberal projects, and a careful analysis of his development projects in sub-Saharan Africa.”
  • “I would recommend the book as a good alternative to many of the ‘history of development’ books that often remain abstract and theoretical to students. By critically engaging with the person Jeffrey Sachs we are all challenged to think broader and deeper about the meaning of ‘development’ as discourse and practice.”


  • Japhy Wilson on George Soros and philanthrocapitalism for Jacobin

    Author of Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr. Shock and Mr. Aid, Japhy Wilson writes for Jacobin on the paradox of philanthrocapitalism and one of its main proponents, George Soros: 

    In the world of high finance, Soros is famous for his concept of “reflexivity,” according to which market transactions impact the price signals to which they respond. Meanwhile, in his philanthropic work, Soros emphasizes the constant danger of “unintended consequences.” He does not, however, consider the possibility of a relationship between these two dimensions.

    In other words, it never occurs to him that “feedback loops” might be established between his speculative activities and his philanthropic projects in unintended ways. In the tale that I am about to tell, we will see how Soros is not only “taking money in at one end and pushing it out at the other,” but is also eating the stuff that comes out at the other end.

    Read the full piece on Jacobin

  • Post-crash economics: a reading list

    Neoliberal economics isn't working and students are demanding more from their course reading than the 8th edition of Macroeconomics can provide. Following the news that Economics students in Manchester have formed the Post-Crash Economics Society and Aditya Chakrabortty's excoriating and controversial commentary on the state of contemporary economics, published in the Guardian, Verso presents a reading list of economics titles which challenge the mainstream neoliberal consensus and offer powerful alternative models in contemporary economics.

    First up, Wolfgang Streeck's analysis of the 2008 financial crisis, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.
    Placing the crisis in the context of the neoliberal transformation of society that began in the 1970s, Streeck's focus is on the tensions that this has produced between states, voters and capitalist enterprises. Buying Time asks fundamental questions about the compatibility between democracy and contemporary forms of capitalism. 
    Read Streeck's excellent article on the end of capitalism at the New Left Review website.

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  • Verso Five Book Plan: Neoliberal Fantasy

    In this new blog series we bring you recommended reading lists as selected by Verso authors. Our next installment comes from Japhy Wilson, author of Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr Shock and Mr Aid, offering up his picks of the best reads on neoliberal fantasy. 

    In Jeffrey Sachs: The Strange Case of Dr Shock and Mr Aid, I develop a critique of neoliberalism as an anxious form of crisis management, which evolves through its failures to conceal a repressed truth. Neoliberal ideology, I argue, is not a monolithic shock doctrine, but a web of social fantasies structured against the traumatic Real of Capital. Here I introduce some of the books that have influenced my understanding of the neoliberal project, and its perplexing trajectory from the austere brutality of shock therapy to the messianic spectacles of philanthrocapitalism.

    1. Jamie Peck, Constructions of Neoliberal Reason (Oxford University Press, 2010)   

    Countless books have been written on the nature of neoliberalism. In my opinion, this one is the best of the lot. Much of the critical literature on neoliberalism presents it as omnipotent and one-dimensional – as a hegemonic class project or a mysterious deus ex-machina that relentlessly hollows out the state and marketizes all forms of social existence. Peck distances himself from such representations, providing a detailed and nuanced genealogy of neoliberalism, which emphasises its diverse sources, its internal incoherence, and its ceaseless transformation in response to repeated crises. Peck distinguishes two phases of the neoliberal project: first there was the ‘roll back neoliberalism’ of Thatcherism, Reaganomics, shock therapy, and the Washington Consensus, which sought to roll back the interventionist state and allow market society to spontaneously flourish. When this failed to achieve the desired results, it was replaced by ‘roll-out neoliberalism’, which aimed to compensate for the multiple ‘market failures’ of the roll-back phase, through the rolling out of an increasingly comprehensive set of social reforms and institutional modifications that remained faithful to neoliberal fundamentals. Hence the Post-Washington Consensus of the World Bank, the Third Way of the Blair and Clinton era, as well as numerous subsequent iterations of the roll-back/roll-out dialectic. Peck therefore insists that “it is necessary to recognize the free-market project’s adaptive (and co-optive) capacities, rather than relying on cartoon-like versions of its supposedly invariant essence’ (p. 276). This argument helped me to understand Jeffrey Sachs’s transformation from Dr Shock into Mr Aid, not as a ‘road to Damascus’ rejection of neoliberalism, but as a transition that remained internal to the trajectory of neoliberalism itself.

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