The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seem like a nice project: improve the whole world with a number of specific goals. They are the successor of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which finish this year with mixed success. Here in Malawi we missed half of them which cannot be seen as a great achievement. The project of the SDGs, as with the MDGs, is lead by economist Jeffrey Sachs. He comes from the neo-liberal school of economics, which sees a small role for the state and a big role for corporations as the way to go. He has for many years specialized in aid, but has never severed himself from neo-liberal economics.
The Millennium Development Goals were a limited set of 8 goals, that set priorities. The SDGs on the other hand have 17 Goals, and 169 targets. This is a huge wish-list, which cannot in any way be achieved. Sachs is setting his project up for failure.
He wants to eliminate severe poverty (defined as living under US 1.25 per day, which is very low according to several recent studies) by 2030. But he also wants to create a sustainable world, with care for eco-systems. At the same time he does not address inequality in the world at large, or the financial systems of capitalism. Capitalism lives by economic growth (measured usually in GDP). But with economic growth continuing enough to eliminate severe poverty without addressing the distribution of income, the growth will be so big that it will destroy the ecology (the natural environment). If we want to eliminate severe poverty, and live in a sustainable world, then we need to address both the growth needed by the capitalist system, and the distribution of income, and first of all we need a revision of the financial systems that are enhancing poverty in poor countries by extracting money there. Sachs is trying to avoid politics to solve a deeply political problem. And that can never work (like his “Millennium Development Villages did not work).