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Jeffrey Sachs: 'We Don’t Have The Infrastructure For A 21st Century Modern Economy'

Few people may be better equipped to assess the needs of sustainable infrastructure in the present-day economy than Jeffrey Sachs. His credentials on sustainable economic development and equitable growth are remarkable. The Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University has advised multiple UN Secretary Generals on the matter and currently serves as the President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and is a commissioner of the UN Broadband Commission for Development. Moreover, his books like The End of Poverty, The Age of Sustainable Development, and The Ages of Globalization: Geography, Technology, and Institutions, apply both a modern and historic lens in which to view the question: how do we grow an economy in a way that is just, equitable, sustainable, and enriching?


Sachs is clear on how his analysis of how well the United States has answered that question with the development of domestic infrastructure. "For decades, we just have not kept pace with our transport system, our rail, our fiber; so we don’t have the infrastructure for a 21st Century modern economy – we’ve just underinvested." Sachs said in a recent interview with The Climate Pod.


But with the announcement of the American Jobs Plan, Sachs thinks a better way forward is possible. "The Biden Administration is the first decisive change in the right direction in 40 years," Sachs said. "It's a big deal what's happening now."


"We Need An Infrastructure That's Climate Safe As Well."


In the interview, Sachs explains the two most important aspects of building infrastructure to combat climate change and adapt to the present environment as well as the key steps to get there. He also discusses why addressing climate change with infrastructure developments is essential to creating a more just and equitable society. "We can't have justice if we're destroying ourselves...The amount of suffering is so large, we're not going to achieve any kind of justice if we continue on this path."


Jeffrey Sachs Explains Why "The Tax System Is Just A Scandal"


Sachs strongly endorsed the Biden Administration's call for a global minimum tax and sees a critical need to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals who have received massive tax cuts in recent years and avoided more taxes on profit and income for decades. It's what Sachs calls an "outrageously unjustified" aspect of the American economy. "Sometimes, I can't even believe what I learn," Sachs said. "You can see why we have this system. But it isn't subtle. It isn't even close to being subtle. It's just awful. And we have to stop being awful. We have to start doing things right."


On Deficit Spending: "It Isn't Exactly Progressive To Say Don't Worry About The Deficit"


But despite the growing popularity among many progressive economists (like leading Modern Monetary Theorist and author of The Deficit Myth Dr. Stephanie Kelton) and many liberal policy experts to use deficit spending to address infrastructure needs and decarbonizing efforts, Sachs advocates for the wealthiest Americans to pay more for these initiatives instead of adding to the national debt. "I don't want to get away with all the borrowing we can get away with because it leaves the debt for future generations." He explains why he's worried about future interest rates and servicing the national debt in the coming decades. "I think this debt is going to be a bigger burden in the future and we ought to keep it under control." Sachs said. "Not by not doing the spending [on infrastructure and combating climate change], because the spending is a priority. But by raising the taxes on the people that can afford it."


Sachs also gives his thoughts on...

  • His hopes for the Biden Administration

  • Why he's optimistic President Biden can achieve great change

  • The most important needs for the American economy

  • Why he thinks fossil fuel corporations are losing power and influence

To hear the full interview with Jeffrey Sachs, listen to The Climate Pod interview on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also watch the interview on YouTube here and subscribe to The Climate Pod's YouTube Channel to see more great interviews with guests like Bill Nye, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rainn Wilson, Dr. Michael Mann, Catherine Coleman Flowers, and more.