The Price of Civilization

The Price of Civilization

Economics and Ethics After the Fall

Book - 2011
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For the first time, Jeffrey Sachs, the pre-eminent economist of our times, turns his attention to his homeland, the United States, to reveal the stunning inadequacy of American-style capitalism and to offer a bold and ambitious plan to change it.

Jeffrey Sachs has visited more than a hundred countries on five continents, invited to help diagnose and cure seemingly intractable economic problems. Now, in the wake of the worst recession in recent history, Sachs turns his focus on the United States. The complexity of the world economy means that the American form of capitalism, which has been exported around the globe, brought the world to the brink of the precipice--and it will do so again, if measures aren't taken to fix it. This will require not only government action but for US citizens to reach a consensus on their government's role in everyday life and on their basic values--hugely controversial issues in recent years.

The scary thing is if they don't, it will affect us all. The good news is that Sachs, in this book, clearly and persuasively leads his readers to an understanding of what the common ground of reform can and should--indeed, must--be.
Publisher: Toronto : Random House Canada, 2011.
ISBN: 9780307357571
Branch Call Number: 330. 973 SAC
Characteristics: 324 p. : ill.

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k
kdsheat
Jun 10, 2012

This is an extremely well written and thought provoking book and leaves with the idea there are still thinking people left in America.

g
ghreads
May 27, 2012

I highly recommend this excellent book. Jeffrey Sachs analyses the problems facing the United States today – politically, economically and socially. He concludes that at the root of the current crises is a decline of civic virtue among America’s political and economic elite. The roles of government and taxation in a civilized society have been vilified. Without a restored ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningful and sustained economic recovery.

He identifies and analyses the problems in detail – the weakened role of government in the economy, the rise of the Corporatocracy, lobbying, the widening gap between rich and poor and the shifting of wealth to the top 1%, deregulation, privatization of public services, widening social cleavages, globalization, depletion of natural resources, climate change, the electoral system (2 right-of-centre parties, the role of money, elections every 2 years) and a distracted, disengaged, ill-informed and consumerist citizenry.

He then proposes solutions which start with individual citizens regaining balance between work/leisure, saving/consumption, self-interest/compassion, individualism/citizenship. Society needs to establish the right relationship of markets, politics and civil society to address the complex challenges of the 21st century. He suggests a set of 8 economic goals with timelines (including poverty-reduction, improving education and early childhood development and balancing the federal budget) and presents a list of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Government.

There are lots of facts and figures supporting the arguments. Sachs suggests that the US could learn from other developed countries, especially Scandinavia, and compares the ratings of the US and other countries on international measures of social and economic success and of individual life-satisfaction and happiness.

The emphasis of the book, as the title implies, is that there are costs associated with living in a civilized society and that we are stewards of the future. These costs include taxation and citizen-engagement. The premise that a society must be founded on moral social values is very compelling. There is an appropriate emphasis on the importance of our relationship with earth’s ecosystems.

Although this book is written about the United States, much of the content can be applied equally to Canada, especially with our current government.

The book is very well organized. The quality of writing is varied. Some passages are very well written and almost poetic; in other parts, the writing is a bit clumsy – I often found myself wanting to rewrite some sentences to tighten them up and make them more effective.

My only argument with the content of the book is that Sachs does not address the very real probability of the end of economic growth. This and the somewhat clumsy writing in parts are the only reasons for my 4.5-star rating instead of 5 stars. An excellent companion book to this one would be “The End of Growth” by Richard Heinberg.

e
elinpat
May 21, 2012

See comment of reader I am following.

debwalker Oct 22, 2011

Recalling a conversation with someone in California about Canada's GST. His point was that taxes are the price of living in a decent society, and that America's failure to understand this was leading to its decline.

"The Sachs recital has drawn predictable wrath on the right, where, as if to prove the author’s point about a cheapened debate, the book is being savaged in The Wall Street Journal and other organs, not by scholars but by dutiful politicians and comfort bloggers. It points up the ultimate futility of Sachs making a case so at odds with a deeply entrenched system with little sense of how that predominant opposition is to be overcome. If Democrats and Republicans now agree on anything, it is their refusal to expand government and pay Sachs’s trillions as a price of any civilization any time soon."
Roger Morris
Globe and Mail

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