My post title here is of course Deng Xiaoping’s slogan celebrating the opening of China’s economy to private enterprise. It is also an allusion to the tendency of prominent academic economists to line their pockets by serving as (typically secret) “hired guns” for controversial entities, be they corporations, trade groups or nations. Alan Tonelson’s latest blog post on Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs’ troubling defense of China in the Huawei case combines both of these aspects.
As Alan points out, there is nothing inherently wrong with an academic writing in support of some entity. But as I have noted, if the academic in question is accepting funding from that entity, serious ethical issues arise:
If one takes money from a given source and wants to continue receiving the funds, one cannot do work antagonizing the source. It’s that simple.
And the corollary is that, if the entity asks the academic to write on something specific, it’s difficult if not impossible to decline.
Well, then, was Sachs accepting money from Huawei/China? As Alan reports, the Washington Post‘s Isaac Stone Fish asked Sachs point blank on Twitter,
@JeffDSachs : you just published an article praising Huawei and criticizing the U.S. government…Last month, you wrote the forward to a Huawei report … Did Huawei pay you for that? If so, don’t you think you should disclose that?
Alan notes that Sachs then blocked Fish from following Sachs’ Twitter feed. But there’s more.
Sachs did reply that he had received no Huawei funding. But then I wrote,
Just to be clear: Huawei has not funded Columbia or your organization?
He did not respond.
Then, after having taken so much flak on Twitter, Sachs actually closed his own Twitter account, quite a move in view of the fact that he reportedly had 250,000 followers.
In spite of China’s many recent troubling actions, there are things that economists might praise. The question is whether the praise is given in full sincerity.