To Get Rich Is Glorious

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,

Hey : 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.

18 thoughts on “To Get Rich Is Glorious

  1. Well, I don’t know. I was going to say something rude about Jeffrey Sachs, who deserves it, but his piece here is not unreasonable. I don’t know what the arrest of Meng Wanzhou is all about. How could I? The press is dead, and the Trump administration is hardly coherent or outgoing on its intentions, at least beyond what you can fit in a couple of 140 character messages.

    Is the issue really whether Sachs has fully disclosed his connections? What if he was paid a million dollars by Huawei just to write this one piece and disclosed it, what then?

    Maybe I’m just sympathetic to him using the 1914 analogy, I’ve used that too (regarding Syria et al) in just the last day or so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If a major US CFO were caught in bank fraud, he surely would be prosecuted. Sachs’ claim of selective prosecution is wrong.

      You have a good point about “What if he disclosed? Then what?” Wouldn’t matter much. His “research” would still be cited by the press and on Capitol Hill.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. More interesting are the fault lines exposed about American economists and American capitalism.

    * Apparently, US patriotism is not so solid nor widespread as many like to trumpet, given the ease with which American economists can be induced to carry water for China, and politicians for Mexico.

    * Malkin is proved ever more perceptive in her pithy statement that the right wants cheap labour, and the left wants cheap votes. Thus are Americans unfortunately motivated either by lust for money (on the right) or lust for power (on the left), not by the well-being of America.

    * Given the shrewdness of the Chinese leadership in exploiting these faults in the USA and elsewhere (third-world ports, etc) and the USA’s inability to respond, perhaps the USA really should consider complete disengagement from China, as discussed by Tonelson and Chang on a recent Batchelor programme.

    * The hatred and contempt held (by so many) against Trump notwithstanding, the Trump administration may be the first in decades to fully recognise the economic, strategic, military, and geopolitical threat from the PRC. We’ll see how he handles it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We have a major problem in the United States with corruption.
    It is bad enough that government officials are taking bribes from
    foreign governments and corporations.

    Now we are faced with media people, academics, and pretty much anybody
    else who might have influence being paid off.

    Remember a few years ago when the Brookings Institution published that
    completely over-the-top H1-B propaganda? I always figured that Brookings
    was partisan, but that was the first time I saw evidence of actual corruption.

    This is, of course, the downside of being the world’s dominant military,
    financial, and cultural power.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As an H1-B critic, I wonder if UC Davis has received any funding from any of those large H1-B high tech employer sponsors such as Google, FaceBook, Apple. Hard to believe UCD has not. If so, then how are we supposed to interpret your question for Sachs whether Columbia has received funding from Huawei and one cannot antagonize the funding source. 🙂 I would even think UCD itself may have H1-B employees.


      • I think what Guy is trying to say is that one can not antagonize the funding source in ANY way.

        Suppose the owner of a company wants to fund a professor on a certain topic. Obviously, the professor can not antagonize the funding source by publishing a paper contrary to the funder’s view on the topic. Guy wants to extend this to anything else such as political affiliation, religious views, etc.

        For example, Guy would have a problem with a Republican Protestant funding a Democratic Catholic professor on a topic that has nothing to do with politics or religion. There goes your theory about antagonizing the source.

        The Republican Protestant might prefer to hire a white Democratic Catholic professor than a black Republican Protestant professor. We can’t know for sure what went into the decision making process.


  5. > 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.

    Agreed. It reminds me of that old Upton Sinclair quote that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” One reason that I’ve long liked that quote is that it seems to suggest that this “inability to understand” is often not a conscious decision. There’s simply a strong motivation for people not to dwell on possibilities that will negatively affect their livelihood. That especially seems to be the case in today’s gig economy where there is much less job security for many people. The fact that Upton Sinclair gave that quote in 1934, however, suggests that this has long been a problem.

    > “What if he disclosed? Then what?” Wouldn’t matter much. His “research” would still be cited by the press and on Capitol Hill.

    This reminds me of the problems with the reproducibility of studies. I’ve long thought that journals and the press in general should promote reproducibility by ceasing to cite studies that have not been reproduced. At the very least, they should disclose whether the studies being cited have been reproduced and/or peer-reviewed. However, the latter case of disclosure would still likely have the problem that many people would simply ignore the disclosures. Of course, it would seem good to have the disclosures out there. But the motivations along the entire process need to be examined and addressed to have the best chance of cleaning up the system. For example, our campaign contribution system likely makes it very difficult for many on Capitol Hill to “understand” a great many things.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The backdrop to this is growing Chinese poser and influence. This book exposes how China has a stranglehold on the global pharmaceutical industry.

    China Rx

    Rosemary Gibson talked about the risks of the U.S. depending on China to supply the essential ingredients for many of our most widely used medicines.

    Lynn R. Goldman MD.
    Daniel Slane
    Commissioner (Former)
    U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission

    Patrick A. Mulloy
    Assistant Secretary (Former)
    Department of Commerce->Market Access and Compliance


  7. It’s the same with the “Free Press”. When you have hundreds of newspapers owned by a huge corporation, how in the world can they provide unbiased commentary without incurring the wrath of the corporate masters? There is no “Free Press” in the mainstream, but there is a CORPORATE PRESS.

    In fact, most people have forgotten that the MS in MSNBC stands of MicroSoft — M.S. bought in to NBC in the 1990’s and it’s been a Gates mouthpiece ever since.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That seems to have been a pretty powerful question of yours Norm. Quite legitimate too, given that a group concerned with sustainable development would be in a powerful position to influence telecom decisions in developing countries.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Any country needs to be self sufficient for the necessities.

    IMO, the US has given up too much in manufacturing and materials formulation so that should we ever be “cut off” from our current suppliers that we could not survive, at least in the short term. We would have a more limited diet, but we would not starve. We now have essential energy. We have shelter and could make it more densely inhabited if necessary and convert temporary residences to permanent ones We have traded manufacturing for money manipulation and a technology race (Do we really need to design a new model of cell phone every year when we cannot manufacture fabrics or clothing and need to import essential metals?)


  10. Academia has been compromised for decades. Wall Street has been hiring professors as consultants and for summer projects for decades. Most of the global warming/climate change crap came out this environment. Wall Street wanted a climate/carbon credits scheme to expand their product base and they needed credible “science” to sell it. I never thought they would get away with it, but they did. Just look at how brainwashed the world has become from bought and paid for research.

    The only way to slow down this fraud fest is for advocates to disclose all funding sources. Even then some of the foundations are so obscure most readers wouldn’t get the connections anyway.


    • Hard to comment when no one knows what Trump meant. 🙂 Clearly he is alluding to the decades-long wait for a green card for some H-1Bs who have been approved. He may be referring to Staple a Green Card, which could make a new, separate GC category with no cap; the backlog would, I guess, be shifted to the new category and thus vanish within months.


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