Ignacy Sachs (1927-2023)



The death of the Polish economist occurs just as the world is watching in perplexity – but well warned by him – the effects of the ecological catastrophe announced for decades

The news of the death of Ignacy Sachs, in Paris, at the age of 96, reaches us with the force of an extreme event in the terrestrial environment. Coincidence or not, his disappearance occurs just as the world watches perplexed – but well warned by him – the effects of the ecological catastrophe announced for decades. Not only this theme is present at the moment. Other subjects to which Ignacy Sachs dedicated his long life are guided by the decline of diplomacy and science in the face of the fascist rise driven by a deconstruction capitalism revived since the end of the 1970s. Peace, development, hunger, work, inclusion, civilization were the perennial hashtags in the work of this Polish citizen of the world.

In your The third bank, in search of development, Ignacy Sachs recounts meeting another author who insists on keeping up to date in the 1963st century, to the misfortune of those fans of the fantasy that it is possible for the world to go by itself. This is Josué de Castro. Perhaps it is more than pertinent to remember one for the other in this phase of Brazil and the planet. Ignacy Sachs recalls a meeting in Geneva, in XNUMX, at the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology at the Service of Development, when Josué de Castro, then president of the Brazilian delegation, asked him to help organize an appeal by the scientists present to the event in favor of peace. Josué de Castro intended to take the text to the conference on disarmament that was simultaneously taking place nearby, in the Palace of Nations.

The two then met with Michal Kalecki, president of the Polish delegation, Abba Eban, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, and Gabriel Ardant, a Soviet academic. It was in this episode that Josué de Castro became a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He did not succeed, as we know. But, in 1973, Josué de Castro was already in love with the concept of eco-development, elaborated by Ignacy Sachs. In summary, a concept that belies the possibility of solving socio-environmental problems through the thesis of degrowth, but rather places greater emphasis on the quality of development. This theoretical elaboration by Ignacy Sachs, according to himself, is a reunion with what is most innovative in Josué de Castro, that is, the combination of the social and the ecological in his hunger geography. In fact, until its publication in 1946, no literature had dared to lend such complexity, in the area of ​​social sciences, when analyzing an object. And what an object! The hunger.

Ignacy Sachs even wrote in Paths of sustainable development that the concept of eco-development, that is, the attempt to define development strategies that are socially useful, ecologically sustainable and economically viable, was in line with Josué de Castro's concern. This fruitful intellectual dialogue originates in the conception of science and its perception for both. It is Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira who, when summarizing the work of Ignacy Sachs in an article published in Political Economy Magazine, then highlights this quality by underlining that the Polish economist “never let himself be carried away by the beautiful corner of science” and let himself be distracted from moral values. “No stopping growth as long as there are poor people and glaring social inequalities; but it is imperative that this growth changes in terms of its modalities and, above all, the sharing of its fruits. We need another growth for another development”, mentions Bresser-Pereira, from The third margin.

For Ignacy Sachs, says Bresser-Pereira, economics is theory and also a way of thinking associated with practice. “When we leave pure theory models aside and turn to the more 'realistic' mechanisms of action of a particular economic system in a given framework of circumstances, the use of models becomes effective, and, in our opinion, recommendable. ”, points out Ignacy Sachs. But he argues that economics can never be detached from the Social Sciences, as these “have essentially a heuristic value of helping us to think. They help to ask the right questions, the relevance and articulation of which are not at all obvious and which would not come to the mind of an inexperienced observer. But the answers to these questions can only come from praxis”.

It is legitimate to say that the economics of Ignacy Sachs – aligned with that of Josué de Castro – reverberates in contemporary economists by offering research based on Social Science methodologies, such as ethnography, direct or participant observation, that is, much more an economist who is in the place where the phenomenon takes place than the economist tied to computer screens preparing graphs, mathematical models or exaggeratedly strained by theoretical digressions. Josué de Castro would have been that precursor with hunger geography and Ignacy Sachs followed him on his travels and professional experiences in India, Brazil, above all, France, in short, around the world. One could cite here as contemporaries successful followers of this school the Nobel Prizes Esther Duflo and Abhijit V. Banerjee, for example, among others.

In 2009, on the occasion of the Copenhagen Climate Conference, I spoke at length with Ignacy Sachs about his biocivilization economics. At the time, I was a member of the chair that bears his name established at PUC-SP. He believed that future generations, by mastering greater knowledge, as a result of the breadth of circulation of information provided by the web, would be better and should never be perceived as a setback. Ignacy Sachs had little intellectual experience of the rise of the new fascism. He, however, bet that the productive system, instead of incorporating the thesis of degrowth, could incorporate the production of small rural landowners in the sustainable pattern and in the processing of biomass, this would imply resorting to intensive work in knowledge, research & development and optimize natural resources. He was evidently far from naive about the challenges of financial interests about this prospect. However, transforming the threatening food and energy crises into opportunities to advance towards biocivilization would be, for him, inexorable.

As Bresser-Pereira recalls, Sachs thought of the world as a spaceship, in which, following the anthropocene concept, very much in vogue today, five tasks would be required: planning (very different from planning), the energy revolution, the green revolution, the blue revolution (maritime production) and international cooperation. Two preconditions for carrying out these tasks, for Ignacy Sachs, would be the improvement of “social control of the social economy” and a redefinition of the place of work in everyday life, to options related to productivity. “It is necessary to introduce into this discussion the issue of equitable distribution of the workload among all those who wish to work”. And he added: “'Leisure', for those who work, and 'forced leisure', for those who can't find work, are not even remotely synonymous”. In short, he advocated a flexible reorganization of life's times.

In macroeconomic terms, these tasks would only be possible if the world, which emerged from the Second World War with the agenda of full employment as a central social objective, planning and a “protective state as a complement” promoted a certain “corrected” or “improved” return to the excesses of statism or voluntarism that would depend on curbing technocratic solutions, often, or almost hegemonically, approved by the polls, compromising a democratic environment – ​​in the really collective and egalitarian sense. Sachs's greatest anguish, however, was that Spaceship Earth had little time to wait for all this: "The policy of small steps will not save us."

*Jorge Felix é jjournalist and professor at the School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at USP.


Bresser-Pereira, LC Ignacy Sachs and the spaceship Terra, Political Economy Magazine, vol 33, nº 2 (131), pp 360-366, April-June/2013.

Campelo, T. et al. Hunger geography – 75 years later: new and old dilemmas [electronic resource], USP School of Public Health, 2023.

Castro, J.de. Geography of hunger, the Brazilian dilemma: bread or steel, São Paulo, However, 2022C (https://amzn.to/45ECVIx).

Felix, J. The Economics of Biocivilization, magazine this is, nº 2093, pp. 110-112, December 23, 2009.

Sachs, I. The third bank, in search of eco-development, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2009 (https://amzn.to/3KOR5Pk).

Sachs, I. Ways for sustainable development, Rio de Janeiro, Garamond, 2002 (https://amzn.to/44i3To0).

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