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Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet Paperback – Feb 24 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (Feb. 24 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143114875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143114871
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.7 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #163,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By I. Dobson on April 11 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...the other one is "The Weathermakers", but thats for another review. This is not so much an economics book as a synopsis of all that is troubling in the world at the moment. Sachs explains the problems of population control and the significance of age stratification, issues around resource depletion and the serious problem of our disappearing global fresh water supply. Rather than being alarmist, Sachs explains the issues in simple straightforward terms and offers real workable solutions based on sound scientific and statistical data. You will come away from this book with a good working knowledge of the problems we hear about everyday and how to fix them. A very absorbing book and easily accessible to the average reader with no background in economics or science.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By W R Gee on July 20 2008
Format: Hardcover
Jeffrey Sachs provides a thoughtful, inspiring, creative and provocative book in Common Wealth, with real solutions recommended for (notably American) governments, NGOs and businesses while providing careful attention to cultural contexts.

Sachs reminds us of the relative ease and common sense involved in dramatically reducing poverty and disease, improving quality of life, creating local business/empowerment opportunities and ensuring sustainable growth for those that are the most threatened.
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Amazon.com: 51 reviews
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Earth Changing Trends and Solutions July 20 2008
By B.Sudhakar Shenoy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is yet another classic from Jeffrey Sachs. Here is the most comprehensive and compelling list of issues facing Mother Earth in the twenty first century and also some excellent prescriptions for sustainable and inclusive global economic growth.

The list of "six earth changing trends" starts with convergence. Thanks to globalization and relatively peaceful environment despite some regional tensions, most developing countries are catching up fast for the lost time in the last three decades. Sachs explains the concept of convergence and a thumb rule for forecasting faster growth rates of poorer countries, relative to their income levels. The good news is that poorer countries can grow faster. The flip side is that there are about 6 times more people on this planet today than in 1830 and this is expected to grow by another 40 % to 9.2 billion by 2050. Assuming steady economic growth rates, the global GNP is expected to reach around $ 400 Trillion from the current $ 67 Trillion, a six fold increase.

The bad news is that this may not be achievable if we continue to adopt conventional technologies that deplete natural resources that have an adverse impact on the already fragile environment. Sachs quantifies his using the I = P*A*T equation, where the environmental impact of development equals the product of population, average income and the negative effect of conventional technologies. That means that by 2050, we would have environmental pollution levels that are about 8.4 times than today, which is clearly unsustainable. Hence the urgent need for adopting sustainable technologies on a rapid scale, whereby I=P*A/S where S in the denominator stands for sustainable technologies.

The impact of global warming is also explained extremely well. Global warming caused primarily by CO2 is discussed in detail. The analysis of the rise in global temperatures as a consequence of CO2 levels rising from 280 ppm in 1950 to around 380 ppm today is alarming. Global warming is a vicious cycle since more CO2 in the atmosphere traps more infrared rays from being reflected back into outer space, thereby further increasing atmospheric temperatures. The warmer oceans in turn release the dissolved CO2 into the atmosphere, adding fuel to fire. Sachs points out to the availability of vast carbon resources that can be gainfully utilized to meet our energy needs, while simultaneously using Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies to contain CO2 emissions.

Larger populations need more food. Increasing incomes and urbanization means we have lesser people in villages to grow more food from the same acreage of land. It is interesting to note that in the year 2008, for the first time in the history of humanity, 50% of the people are now living in urban areas. The net addition of population from now till 2050 is likely to be added in urban areas. This calls for substantial increase in agricultural productivity in rural areas. Unfortunately, water emerges as a major constraint due to excessive usage, run-offs, depletion of ground water and mismanagement. Global warming further adds to the crisis due to melting of glaciers and increasing variability in rainfall. Moreover water has spillover effects and hydrological interdependence in scare regions can cause severe tensions and conflicts.

We enter the new millennium with such daunting challenges, as well as with a sixth of the world's population trapped in severe poverty. Sachs then turns to his favorite topic of global cooperation to end poverty as pledged by the Millennium Development Goals. Starting from increasing agricultural productivity through high yielding, drought resistant, low tillage crops using modern irrigation techniques, he explains how we can lift the subsistence economies into the first rung of the ladder of development. Small investments in providing treated mosquito nets and spraying of houses can significantly reduce incidents of malaria and improve health and life expectancy.

Markets alone cannot solve global problems of this scale. Public participation and funding of infrastructure, basic education and health care are some of the critical items that markets tend to ignore. Poor countries are in desperate need for aid to free themselves from the poverty trap. For the G-8 it is a matter of adhering to the promise of 0.7 % of GNP towards developmental aid. Unfortunately, this is not met. Sachs once again makes a passionate appeal for adherence to these promises.

There is a separate chapter on US foreign policy, which comes under heavy criticism for excessive defense expenditure to the tune of about $ 1.5 billion a day while totally neglecting economic aid and diplomatic initiatives. Long term solution to peace is economic development and not military intervention argues Sachs.

Overall, the emphasis of the book is on sustainable development and the urgent need to eliminate poverty, two basic duties that all of us as global citizens need to own. In addition, all institutions, Governments, NGOs, Universities, Multinationals and Charitable Institutions should play a significant role. Classic examples of such successful global co operations in the past include eradication of small pox and Asia's Green Revolution.

Two other books that I recommend as worthy supplementary readings are:

1. The end of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs
2. The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier

The time for action is now.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Excellent at times, frustrating at others Jan. 15 2011
By A. Berke - Published on Amazon.com
Having recently finished Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" and Collier's "The Bottom Billion", I was excited to pick this book up as a continuation of those themes. In the end, I think I would have been better served sticking with the first two. At times, Sachs was excellent. For example, his chapter on population is full of figures, compelling and well-presented data, interesting anecdotes, and seemed written from the perspective of someone passionately involved with the topic. In other parts of the book he seemed out of his element. The sections on poverty and energy, while interesting, were much weaker than the section on population, and rather better covered (as one would expect from books specific to those topics) by Friedman and Collier. Overlap between topics in books is nothing new, I just think I suffered from having read the other two first.

I also was somewhat annoyed with the partisan tone the book took on at times. I was annoyed not because I necessarily disagreed with Sachs, but rather than it seemed to actively work to defeat the purpose of the book. I feel like much of this book was written to move people from complacency to a place of better understanding, and hopefully to action. The constant, almost sniping, remarks about the failings of the Bush administration (and, to be fair, other administrations as well) could well be a turn-off to the very people Sachs would like to reach with this book. All that now said, his last chapter was very good. The specifics of 'here's what we need to do' to make inroads against poverty, population explosion, and the energy crisis leave one with a sense of hope; that the goals are reachable.

So, in the end I would recommend reading Collier and Friedman *instead* of this book, though you could certainly do a lot worse than reading this one.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
The Rising Costs of Environmental Degradation April 26 2008
By Izaak VanGaalen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With the publication of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time just a few years ago, Jeffrey Sachs estimated that it would take annual donations of 135 to 190 billion dollars by rich countries to eradicate poverty by 2025. Those were the UN Millenium Development Goals of 2000. But much has happened since then. Economic development has accelerated and not because of development aid, it was mostly due to globalization or market forces. The unfortunate by-product of this development has been enviromental stress. In order to continue development in a sustainable way and also reach areas of sub-Sahara Africa, the price tag will go up. According to Sachs, it will now require 840 billion dollars or about 2.4 percent of rich-world income. This is still a bargain when one considers the alternative.

Sachs is obviously a liberal with a grandiose plan that many will call utopian. He has been famously criticized by conservatives such as William Easterly in The White Man's Burden. Conservatives are not keen on large-scale plans in general, and they are generally cynical about what governments and humanitarian aid agencies can accomplish. However, in spite of their differences, Sachs and Easterly share some common ground. They both believe that small targeted projects that are either monitored or bypass corrupt government officials can be effective. Sachs is at his best when he draws on work done at the Earth Institute, of which he is director. The scientific farming techniques that he advocates are essential to the survival of the human race that is becoming predominantly urban.

Eradicating poverty is in everyone's interest since it slows down population growth. If the global population continues to grow at its current rate, reaching 10 billion at mid-century, our resources will be depleted. It is unrealistic for national governments or international organizations to try and control population growth. Only with economic security and widely distributed wealth will populations levels stabalize.

Sachs argues in the final chapter (The Power of One) that global cooperation is needed to solve the problems of poverty, overpopulation, pandemics, pollution, climate change, and scarcities of water, arable land and resources. This sounds naive and utopian but it is also true. National governments, however, will only be looking at their own short-term interests. But as environmental catastrophes start to mount, whether it's food shortages or rising sea-levels, governments will take action, but by then it might be too late.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Humane and hopeful June 9 2009
By William Podmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jeffrey Sachs is special adviser on the UN's Millennium Development Goals to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. He urges that the principles of social justice should guide economic forces, not profit, and he argues that problems need diplomacy and development, not war, sanctions and threats. Development brings security, not vice versa.

As he notes, "A world of untrammelled market forces and competing nation-states offer no automatic solutions." "Market forces by themselves do not optimally allocate society's resources." "Market forces alone will not overcome poverty traps."

He shows in detail that market forces cannot deliver R&D or ensure the adoption of new technologies or control population growth or protect the environment or prevent species loss or get medicine to the poorest. The market pays no heed to future generations. As we can all now see, capitalism is self-reinforcing, not self-correcting.

We have the technology, industry and resources to solve all our problems. As Sachs writes, "Earth has the energy, land, biodiversity, and water resources needed to feed humanity and support long-term economic prosperity for all. The problem is that markets might not lead to their wise and sustainable use." He urges countries to convert commons from open-access to community management, not privatise them.

So within each country we need to develop and spread technologies suitable for that country, like carbon capture, drip irrigation, desalination, drought-resistant crops, high-yield wheat (which increased India's harvest from 11 million metric tons in 1960 to 55 million in 1990), vaccines for tropical diseases, and turning coal into petrol by Fischer-Tropsch liquefaction.

Within each country, we should promote welfare. Social welfare states like Denmark and Finland do better than free market states like Britain and the USA. They have higher employment rates, higher GNPs per person and more equality. We can cut fertility rates, and therefore increase growth, by providing free access to health services, especially emergency obstetric care and family planning services, and by improving child survival rates.

This is a humane and hopeful book. Sachs proves that we can raise incomes, end extreme poverty, stabilise the population, protect the environment and establish peace. Each needs public action, public funding, long-term thinking and planning, and we all have to take the responsibility.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
a blueprint to eliminate abject poverty and avoid environmental disaster July 18 2008
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book presents about as complete a description you can find about the causes of extreme poverty and environmental threats and what can be done about it. The analytical part presents compelling evidence that without drastic action the world will be in deep trouble. For example. One the main causes of the poverty trap in poor countries is large family size. Even with the most effective fertility reduction program combined with a reduction of infant mortality (these two changes must be combined) the population of Africa will from 2005 to 2050 increase with 750 million.When only infant mortality is reduced the increase will be more than a billion. Most of this increase will be in the poorest countries.
The book describes in detail how different negative trends reinforce each other leading to self reinforcing loops. It concerns, water shortage, shortage of oil and gas, overfishing, reduction of forest cover, reduction of arable land, pollution and an increase in temperature. Fortunately the author describes precise programs how these problems can still be solved. Also, what the free-market can and cannot do. The complementary roles of global organisations like the UN, national governments, business and NGOs are described.
An example of such a detail is that the main problems cannot be solved without scientific and technological breakthroughs. For example there is plenty of fossil fuel in the form of coal. But a solution has to be found to sequestrate the harmful gases produced otherwise it will lead to environmental disaster. The author believes I think correctly, that fundamental research around this problem has to be organized and funded on a global scale by governments. This is not happening to day. It requires an integrated global approach, already at the R&D level.
The author may be overoptimistic about governments, business and people in general to make short term sacrifices for long term gains. Historical events have been driven primarily by greed, national self-interest; wars, conquests, internal wars, colonilisation, slavery, overfishing, the financial crisis in 2008 are all examples. China rightly wants to increase the standard of living of its inhabitants; as yet almost regardless of the environmental consequences. The US and Europe have made little progress in reducing energy consumption even though they talk a lot about it and set ambitious targets.
The missing link is how to change the attitudes from governments, business and people to be not only concerned about their own well being the next few years, but to be concerned for the well being of others over the next 20 years. It is urgent; it is not just a question of concern for the next generation.
Fortunately, the book presents many examples of successful radical change projects. The challenge is to scale up to the level of the world.

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