Jeffrey D. Sachs Biography


Born in 1954, in Detroit, MI; son of Theodore Sachs (an attorney); married Sonia Ehrlich, c. 1979. Education: Harvard College, B.A., 1976; Harvard University, M.A., 1978; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1980.


Office —Earth Institute, Columbia University, 405 Low Library, MC 4335, 535 W. 116th St., New York, NY 10027.


Assistant professor, Harvard University, 1980; associate professor, Harvard University, 1982; full professor, Harvard University, 1983; director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, 1995–99; director of the Center for International Development, Harvard, 1999–2002; director of Columbia University's Earth Institute as well as professor of sustainable development and of health policy and management, Columbia University, 2002—.


American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Harvard Society of Fellows; Fellows of the World Econometric Society; Brookings Panel of Economists; Board of Advisors of the Chinese Economists Society; Institute of Medicine; International Financial Institutions Advisory Commission, 1999–2000; chairman of the World Health Organization's Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, 2000–01.


Honorary degrees from St. Gallen University, Switzerland, 1990, Universidad del Pacifico, Peru, 1997, Lingnan College, Hong Kong, 1998, Varna Economics University, Bulgaria, 2000, Iona College of New York, 2000; Frank E. Seidman Award in Political Economy, 1991; Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, 1999; Bernhard Harms Prize, Kiel, Germany, 2000.


A lot of people talk about how to solve the world's problems, but global economic consultant Jeffrey Sachs actually tries to do something about it. Over the past two decades, his insight and intelligence have helped many nations in their struggles for stability, leading the New York Times Magazine to call Sachs "probably the most important economist in the world." Sachs is regularly consulted by world leaders such as United Nations General Kofi Annan. He has also worked with Pope John Paul II and served as an economic advisor to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Sachs has traveled to more than 100 countries and, to keep up with the demand for his advice, does daily video conferences. In 2004, Time magazine named Sachs one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Sachs was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1954. His father, Theodore Sachs, was an attorney whose life's work centered on improving the working conditions for the labor force, such teachers, firefighters, and other public–sector workers. Sachs said his father always encouraged him to be involved in the issues of the day. Charming and popular, Sachs was Oak Park High School student council president. However, unlike most teens, he was passionate and active about politics. Sachs marched on Moratorium Day, a day university students around the nation spent protesting the Vietnam War and calling for its end. Sachs also attended rallies that featured the legendary United Farm Worker leader Cesar Chavez.

When Sachs was a sophomore in high school, his family took a trip to Russia. There, Sachs befriended an East German student and the two became dedicated pen pals. They developed a strong connection and Sachs flew to Europe to visit his friend after he graduated from high school. During this trip, Sachs became fascinated with the concept of world economies. He began to think about how and why they were different and wondered which economic models were best.

Sachs called the visit with his pen pal a defining moment in his life. Speaking to John H. Richardson of Esquire, Sachs recalled the event: "He was telling me about the wonders of socialism and the thing I discovered was I knew nothing about these issues. I didn't know exactly what capitalism meant, what socialism meant, why we had unemployment and they didn't have unemployment. I didn't know how to answer any of that." By the time Sachs arrived at Harvard College that fall, he said his head was "swimming with this question of why different places in the world have different economic systems."

Sachs was an ambitious student. He entered Harvard in 1972. In four years, he completed his bachelor's degree and had begun his doctorate. By 1980, he was a Harvard professor, dashing off dozens of articles on economic principles—but the ideas Sachs discussed were theoretical and the problems he tackled were solved with fancy equations. In addition, Sachs tended to concentrate on the problems of the developed nations, such as finding a way to solve the 1973 United States energy crisis.

One day, however, a former student invited Sachs to attend a seminar on Bolivia aimed at discussing possible solutions to its 60,000 percent "hyperinflation." After speaking out at the seminar, Sachs was invited to go to Bolivia, forever altering the course of his life. As Sachs told Esquire 's Richardson, "That's what really fundamentally changed my life, my understanding of things, the day I stepped off the airplane in La Paz—July 9, 1985. And I found that the world was vastly more interesting and more complicated than my equations."

Sachs helped the government tighten its budget gap so that it would not have to print so much money to pay its debts, which in turn caused more inflation. Sachs also begged overseas lenders to forgive a portion of Bolivia's debt. "Countries cannot be squeezed to the bone to repay debts without provoking political and social upheaval," Sachs told Esquire 's Richardson. He knew that the payments would plunge Bolivia back into financial collapse. Naturally, the idea did not go over well with the foreign lenders or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Eventually, Sachs secured a debt reduction for Bolivia, which helped usher in the IMF debt–relief movement. Over the years, this program has helped countless nations.

Sachs was incredibly successful in Bolivia. His reforms drove inflation from 60,000 percent a year down to 12 percent. After this success, Poland's leaders called upon Sachs in 1989 as they worked to implement capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism. A few years later, Russia asked for Sachs' help, too, as have many other countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Sachs spent more than 20 years at Harvard and directed its Center for International Development. In 2002, he headed to Columbia University to run the Earth Institute, a conglomerate of 800–plus university employees in dozens of departments in the health and science fields. The Earth Institute works to help poor countries build sustainable economies, while improving human health and preserving the natural environment. "I'm focusing on a world divided between rich and poor, and a world that doesn't seem to be able to manage the natural base of our lives: air, oceans, or biodiversity," he told Alec Appelbaum of Fast Company.

While many economists predict gloom and doom in the fight to end poverty in developing nations, Sachs truly believes it is possible. According to Sachs, eradicating malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis will be the key because if people are sick, they cannot work for their economies. Sachs calls these three the diseases of poverty and believes they are a cause as well as a consequence of it. Sachs believes that stopping these diseases will unleash the economic potential of some of the poorest countries. To this end, Sachs helped the United Nations start a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. A study by Sachs and the World Health Organization concluded that if the world's richest countries raised $38 billion by 2015, they could save eight million lives per year—and expand one–third of the world's prospects for prosperity.

Sachs is irked that a lot of nations do not seem to get it. "I'm still fighting against the incredible capacity of the so–called international community to stare intense human disaster in the face and not flinch from ignoring it," he told Faith McLellan of the Lancet.

Despite his jet–setting, jet–lagged lifestyle, Sachs could not be happier. As he told Amy Barrett of the New York Times Magazine: "To have advised the pope, to be engaged with Kofi Annan—I think our world's greatest political leader—it's a joy beyond anything I could have hoped for."

Selected writings

Theoretical Issues in International Borrowing, Princeton University, 1984.

(With Michael Bruno) Economics of Worldwide Stagflation, Harvard University Press, 1985.

(With Warwick McKibbin) Global Linkages: Macroeconomic Interdependence and Cooperation in the World Economy, The Brookings Institution, 1991.

(With Carlos Paredes) Peru's Path to Recovery, The Brookings Institution, 1991.

(With Felipe Larrain) Macroeconomics in the Global Economy, Prentice Hall, 1993.

Poland's Jump to the Market Economy, MIT Press, 1994.

(With Xiaokai Yang) Development Economies, Blackwell Publishers, 2003.



Esquire, December 2003, p. 196.

Fast Company, January 2004, p. 36.

Lancet, August 23, 2003, p. 672.

Omni, June 1991, p. 76.

New York Times Magazine, December 15, 2002, p. 45.

South China Morning Post, April 15, 2004, p. 14.


"Jeffrey Sachs," Leigh Bureau, (May 18, 2004).

"Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs," The Earth Institute at Columbia University, (April 20, 2004).

Lisa Frick

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