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Sachs on mobile phones, “the single most transformative technology for development”

Jeffrey Sachs is a superstar. His advice contributed to the mess in post-Communist Russia, but that did not hinder him in any way from dispensing advice elsewhere (I met him when came to Sri Lanka in 2002; after I told him what we had done or were doing on telecom, he moved on to dispense advice on other topics). His opinion matters much.

He has described the mobile as the single most transformative technology for development. He expands on this statement in an interview on AllAfrica.

I found only a few excerpts worth pulling out. One is that he believes the mobile will help bridge the Digital Divide:

I actually think that we’ve turned the corner on the digital divide — not that it’s closed but that a gap that seemed to be widening pretty relentlessly is now going to be narrowing in the coming years and I think narrowing quite quickly. We’ll find that it’s in business, it’s in emergency services, it’s in public education, it’s in primary healthcare, banking, distance learning, scientific communications, entertainment and all the rest, and this will make a very big difference.

The other is the plain truth about taxes:

Taxes are also part of the regulatory environment. The phone companies have been cash cows traditionally both for governments and often for political parties. This has been one of the reasons for a reluctance in many places to deregulate, but it’s a mistaken view and a very costly one. So reducing the taxes and essentially opening up these services for broad competition is really important and a [will bring] very good economic return.

I do not think they are called taxes when extracted by political parties and politicians, but . . . . And he does not seem to understand that payments to politicians can actually result in deregulation.

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