Book Review: The Price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs

Just finished reading Jeffrey Sachs’s awe-inspiring The Price of Civilization.

I picked up Jeffrey Sachs’ The Price of Civilization mainly because I opted for economics this time as opposed to science and philosophy (what I read, mostly). I had to decide between the Nobel-prize winner in economics Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now! and this book. I picked Sachs’ for 1) his substantial experience in macroeconomics and shaping/reforming economies abroad (though I disagree – or does not know how I feel – about shock therapy as a solution to hyperinflation); 2) his background in development, sustainability, and developing political economy/economic theories; 3) being a globalization guru when talking about economy and politics; and, lastly 4) where he stands politically, socially, and environmentally (I did not sense any glaring biases in his analysis towards any party – he equally criticized both as argument demands).

In part one of the book, he diagnoses the economic crises, addresses Washington’s disconnect from the public, dissects “the free-market fallacy” in light of globalization and its effects on American society, politics, and good citizenship. Part two of the book is titled “The Path to Prosperity.” Prosperity that is lost in today’s economy. He argues that it is only with a mindful society, informed citizenry, and politically active public that we can move forward. He is very optimistic with the change our generation, The Millennial generation, will bring about. One that I personally look forward to.

Apart from that, he brings up an interesting point that the government, or various administrations, is not the only one to blame (though it’s got the lion’s share) for the economic mess we inherit; the public also shares some responsibility. The public has long lost its trust in the government, disengaged and polarized politically and socially; one argues for more government while the other argues for little to none. This left us fragmented, distracted, and simply unaware of powerful lobbing at work. Corporatocracy has distractedly and wrongly told the public that over-commercialism, over-consumption, low taxes, and short-sightedness are the solutions to our problems. These “solutions” augment our problems rather than remedy them, and he explains why.

The not-so-economics-savvy me found this book enlightening on so many levels. While I recognize America’s economic plight, I did not know, or was simply oblivious to, the core problems that spiraled us down (aside from those on the surface such as Wall Street market collapse of 2008, housing bubble, etc.). In a nutshell, the book strongly argues for a mixed-economy (the middle path as one may put it), one that has the private sector as well as the government wheeling the economy forward. Sachs recognizes, however, that the current government and political system, corporatocracy as he puts it, are not only incompetent but greatly corrupted by lobbies vested interests. It is imperative then that the reforms he puts forward include reforming the government through “honest, open, and transparent problem solving,” taking money out of politics, etc. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to move from short-term planning with little execution, to long-term planning and actually execution. America’s infrastructure is deteriorating, so as its healthcare system, science and engineering sectors, and its standing as the world’s leading economy. I think it is important to note that Sachs is not socialist, but a hardcore capitalist who believes that economic forces are not sufficient to run a marketplace.

My views resonant with those of his in that in order to live a healthy, sustainable, and happy life we need “to be ready to pay the price of civilization through multiple acts of good citizenship: bearing our fair share of taxes, educating ourselves deeply about society’s needs, acting as vigilant stewards for future generations, and remembering that compassion is the glue that holds society together.” He beautifully explains the challenges, and solutions, surrounding taking this route.

So, all in all, Sachs’ book gives us a clear, honest, and socially-responsible diagnosis of our political and economic crisis. It also provides a road-map, if you will, that walks us through how to get out of the pit.

Strongly recommended!

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