Prof Jeffrey Sachs’ plea to the Nordic countries

Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs urges the Nordic countries to hang in and hang on to your success, and your leadership, to help the entire world to achieve the SDGs. His article “Why the World Needs the Nordics More Than Ever” was published in the report The end of Nordic exceptionalism, commissioned by Norwegian Church Aid, Finn Church Aid, DanChurchAid and Church of Sweden. The report is available for download at:

You can read Professor Sachs article below.

Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs is American economist and the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also the author of several books on development economy.

Why the World Needs the Nordics More Than Ever

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

As I have worked around the world for the past quarter century, I have repeatedly –some would say relentlessly –pointed to the Nordic model as the proof that modern capitalism can be combined with decency, fairness, trust, honesty, and environmental sustainability. The Nordic Way –essentially the Social Democratic Way –has been the proof of concept to help convince the world that there is indeed a path between the vulgar inequalities of US capitalism and the failed central planning of so many moribund economies. The Nordic countries are at the top of the world league on transparency, low corruption, high social trust, life expectancy, low poverty, and high development aid for a reason.

Now the Nordic countries are having second thoughts just when the world as a whole has signed on to Nordic values and aspirations in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). My plea to the Nordic countries is to hang in and hang on to your success, and your leadership, to help the entire world to achieve the SDGs.

The new Sustainable Development Goals bring the world to embrace the social democratic ethos on a global scale. After all, what is Sustainable Development but the spirit of social democracy? The concept itself was born in Norway (with Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, one of the greatest statespersons of our age) in 1987, and after various starts and stops (including the Rio Earth Summit, and the failed climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009), is now finally the clear and embraced framework of all 193 member-states of the UN. As adopted by the UN in September 2015, the SDGs call for a holistic approach to societal policies that combine the quest for economic development with social inclusion and environmental sustainability. In short, the SDGs call for the “triple bottom line” of economic, social, and environmental objectives. They also call for peaceful societies (SDG 16) and global partnerships (SDG 17). These are truly Nordic values now universally subscribed. The Nordic countries have helped, with many countries around the world, to bring them to reality, through inspiring example, diplomatic leadership, and consistently generous development assistance.

In this context, and this moment, the new drumbeat of attack on foreign aid is heartbreaking. I’ve lived with the aid issue for 30 years, long advocating for debt relief, development aid for health and education, and large-scale financing for infrastructure and other needs. The basic truth of aid is that it works, and often brilliantly, but there is chronically too little of it. In recent years, development aid has helped to control malaria, AIDS, maternal deaths, and other conditions of extreme poverty; it’s helped to boost agricultural productivity, spread technology, and break the poverty trap in sub-Saharan Africa and low-income Asia.

Now with the SDGs newly adopted, many in the Nordic countries are suddenly calling for cuts in aid, arguing that is it not needed, that it doesn’t work. Many in the Nordic countries are saying that the Nordic countries have their own problems after all. And too much of the Nordic aid is now being used to pay for refugees within the Nordic countries, rather than for development assistance. In short, we have the grave danger of having adopted the SDGs only to see some of their most important global advocates suddenly turn their back on them.

It’s a risk, frankly, that I would never have expected. It was already disheartening that as the UK joined the club of countries giving 0.7% of GDP in aid a couple of years back, the Netherlands simultaneously fell below that target for the first time in decades. And now aid is similarly under attack in Scandinavia, Finland, and other high-aid countries.

Development aid is vitally needed to achieve the SDGs. It can and should play a vital role in achieving SDG 4, universal schooling through the secondary level through a new global fund for education. It can and should help to achieve SDG 3 calling for Universal Health Coverage. It is vital for climate change mitigation and resilience.

In short, the world hangs on a knife-edge, perilously wavering between a catastrophic course of spreading global unrest, unwanted mass migration, and climate disaster on the one path; and true sustainable development on the other path. The Nordic countries have long inspired the best of humanity, and helped to spur global-scale positive change. The SDGs are a fruit of the Nordic efforts, though of course in concert with those of other parts of the world. Now is the time for the Nordic countries to do what they do best –lead with strong values, generosity, and wisdom towards global problem solving, and step up their own role while encouraging the rest of the world to support the SDGs with full heart and wise generosity.


Global Health Minders

Add your comment