Common Wealth Hardcover – Mar 18 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In this sobering but optimistic manifesto, development economist Sachs (The End of Poverty) argues that the crises facing humanity are daunting—but solutions to them are readily at hand. Sachs focuses on four challenges for the coming decades: heading off global warming and environmental destruction; stabilizing the world's population; ending extreme poverty; and breaking the political logjams that hinder global cooperation on these issues. The author analyses economic data, demographic trends and climate science to create a lucid, accessible and suitably grim exposition of looming problems, but his forte is elaborating concrete, pragmatic, low-cost remedies complete with benchmarks and budgets. Sachs's entire agenda would cost less than 3% of the world's annual income, and he notes that a mere two days' worth of Pentagon spending would fund a comprehensive antimalaria program for Africa, saving countless lives. Forthright government action is the key to avoiding catastrophe, the author contends, not the unilateral, militarized approach to international problems that he claims is pursued by the Bush administration. Combining trenchant analysis with a resounding call to arms, Sachs's book is an important contribution to the debate over the world's future. (Mar.)
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"Lucid, quietly urgent, and relentlessly logical... this is Bigthink with a capital B."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Jeffrey Sachs never disappoints. . . . This book is an excellent resource for all those who want to understand what changes the twenty-first century may bring."
-Kofi Annan, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize and former secretary-general of the United Nations
"Common Wealth explains the most basic economic reckoning that the world faces."
-Al Gore, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and former vice president of the United States --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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