The death of economist Ignacy Sachs, pioneer of work on sustainable development

Ignacy Sachs was born in 1927 in Warsaw, into a Jewish family forced to flee Poland invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, to take refuge first in France, then, in 1941, in Brazil. After his baccalaureate, passed at the French high school in Sao Paulo, he began studying economics in this country before returning, in 1954, to Poland, then at the beginning of de-Stalinization. His left-wing sympathies gave him access to the academic world, before an assignment in India added the opportunity to prepare a doctorate at the highly reputed Delhi School of Economics. He notably meets Amartya Sen and Gunnar Myrdal there.

These two stays will form the basis of an original thought, which extends a field already explored, in Argentina, by Raul Prebisch, by Albert Hirschman, in the United States, and by Hans Singer, in the United Kingdom, in works largely founded on the study of dependence and unequal exchanges between developed and developing economies.

Sachs draws from his experiences in the field his own approach, which favors development that avoids dependence and mimicry vis-à-vis developed economies, to rely on endogenous dynamics, South-South cooperation and control of technologies. and resources by each country concerned.

New approach

The violent anti-Semitic purges of the spring of 1968 in Poland forced him and his family into a new exile, which quite naturally led him to France. Fernand Braudel welcomes him there at the VIe section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE), which in 1975 became the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), a framework conducive to the pursuit of its work. His international reputation and his network of contacts have earned him invitations to major conferences. That of Tokyo, in 1970, on the environment, following the mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay, will impose this question at the heart of its reflection on development. It was also the subject of the UN conference in Stockholm in 1972, the year in which the Meadows report on the limits of growth was published, commissioned by the Club of Rome, which sparked lively debate.

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The concept of “ecodevelopment” presided over the creation by Ignacy Sachs, the following year, within the EPHE, of a laboratory, the International Center for Research on the Environment and Development (Cired), giving the opportunity for researchers and doctoral students to invest in a theme that has not yet been studied very much. The seminar he leads at the EPHE is always full, training generations of students in this new approach, which will become, at the end of the 1980s, sustainable development.

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