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Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet [Paperback]

Jeffrey Sachs
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Mar 2009

This is a book about how we should address the great, and interconnected, global challenges of the twenty-first century. Our task, Sachs argues, is to achieve truly sustainable development, by which he means finding a global course which enables the world to benefit from the spread of prosperity while ensuring that we don't destroy the eco-systems which keep us alive and our place in nature which helps sustain our values. How do we move forward together, benefitting from our increasing technological mastery, avoiding the terrible dangers of climate change, mass famines, violent conflicts, population explosions in some parts of the world and collapses in others, and world-wide pandemic diseases?

In answering these questions, Sachs shows that there are different ways of managing the world's technology, resources and politics from those currently being followed, and that it should be possible to adopt policies which reflect long-term and co-operative thinking instead of, as currently, disregard for others and ever-increasing barriers to solving the problems which we collectively face. It is a book which appeals equally to both head and heart, and one which no globally thinking person can ignore.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141026154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141026152
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 154,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'This is an impressive exercise in presenting complex subject matter in plain English, and relating the practicalities of life- subsistence agriculture and water management, for example - to the biggest ideas of modern science' - Martin Vander Weyer, The Daily Telegraph 'His new book ! bursts with ideas and is suffused with what can only be described as irrepressible optimism' - Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

About the Author

Jeffrey D. Sachs is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development and the global best-selling author of The End of Poverty. He is also the BBC's Reith Lecturer for 2007 and is internationally renowned for his work as an economic advisor to governments around the world.

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THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY WILL OVERTURN many of our basic assumptions about economic life. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A manifesto for sustainable globalism 11 May 2008
By Nicholas J. R. Dougan VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
This book is not so much a book about economics as it is a political manifesto. Professor Sachs is on the faculty at the School of International and Public Affairs and is director of the Earth Institute, both at Columbia University. He is also Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and was previously Special Advisor to Kofi Annan, Director of the UN Millennium Project, and was advisor to a number of governments around the world at times of economic crisis. In 2007 some of his students at Columbia sought to get him to run for president. In short, Sachs is not "just" an academic, but a man with a mission, and this book is a call to action.

Sachs considers that, with 6.6bn people, we live on a "very crowded planet". (There are those who disagree: see Julian Simon and his followers, for example (there are some excellent lectures on YouTube), who believe that there need be no practical upper limit to the number of people on the planet.) Personally, however, I am instinctively with Sachs on this one, and even if Simon turns out to be right I would rather we approached further population increases rather cautiously. Sachs demonstrates how the key to lowering population growth depends above all on reducing infant mortality in those areas of greatest poverty that are also the areas of highest population growth - sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and some parts of South America. That in turn depends as much on reducing that poverty as tackling disease directly, and that on education, appropriate investments and support, economic participation in the global economy, etc. These were the subject of the "Millennium Promises" that the developed world made in 2000 but which, as Sachs points out, are a long way from being delivered.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, frightening and promising 25 Sep 2008
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Famed economist Jeffrey Sachs manages to deliver pessimistic news in an optimistic way. Yes, the Earth faces dire threats from global warming, poverty, war, deforestation and mass extinctions. Yet Sachs asserts that these severe problems are manageable. Fixing them will cost $840 billion - a massive amount indeed, but, as Sachs argues, only 2.4% of the rich world's gross national product. Sachs doesn't shy away from politically touchy pronouncements. He argues against the U.S. war in Iraq and for legalized abortion. Still, throughout the fray, his book strikes the unlikely balance of delivering a message that's both frightening and promising. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone seeking insight into the world's most pressing problems.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Global problems need global solutions 3 Oct 2008
Format:Hardcover
'Commonwealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet', is Sach's follow-up to 'The End of Poverty', an important book that showed how poverty could be realistically ended by 2025. Here he addresses one of the main weaknesses of his previous book, that the environmental crisis was barely factored into his thinking. 'Commonwealth' dedicates a whole section to environmental sustainability, alongside sections on demographics, poverty alleviation, and global cooperation.

Unfortunately, it's still the environment where Sachs falls down. The sections on water and conservation are useful, but climate change is summarily cured with the hope that "powerful technologies will likely be available to enable us to mitigate the climate shocks at very modest cost". He also dismisses the oil crisis, saying we have enough fossil fuels "for this century", despite a wealth of information to the contrary.

His analysis is much better on population, with some harsh truths for the US government on its policies in Africa. On the development side Sachs continues his championing of the Millennium Development Goals, and the Millennium Villages project. Sachs does what he does best here, pricing up change to show just how affordable it is, showing that the problem is a lack of will, not of resources. All the development initiatives recommended here would cost no more than 0.7% of the rich world's income, which is what we have already promised in aid.

The idea at the heart of 'Commonwealth' is a call for greater international cooperation. "The main problem," writes Sachs, "is not the absence of reasonable and low-cost solutions, but the difficulty of implementing global cooperation to put those solutions in place." This is the point world leaders should hear loudest and clearest from Sach's latest book: that all our biggest problems can be solved, but global problems need global solutions, and we need to learn to work together.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think - time to act! 29 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback
This book covers a range of challenges facing the world and is optimistic in suggesting solutions.
Commonwealth contains a number of startling insights. First, the human domination of major components of our world. Humanity controls 45% of the land, around 60% of the water cycle and nearly 80% of marine fisheries. Agriculture is the principal user of water and uses as much as all the rest of the demand put together. As a result the Ganges, the Yellow River and the Rio Grande no longer reach the sea because the water is abstracted along the way. We are using groundwater, otherwise known as "fossil water" because it's been trapped underground for millions of years, in the mistaken belief that it's an infinite resource.

Sachs shows how we can address these problems and in particular the problem of population growth. He shows how government intervention is essential and demonstrates that the free-market economies will not address these problems. He also shows that social welfare economies outspend both free markets and mixed economies on R&D, they contribute more in aid and have the lowest proportion of their domestic population in poverty.

Sachs is an American, but that does not stop him from criticizing his country. He complains that poverty in the US is more widespread than in even the average free-market economy. The US struggles to meet its 0.7% GDP target for foreign aid, yet spent $572bn on the military in 2007. This is nearly as much as the whole of the military spending by all the other countries in the world. Spend on humanitarian and development aid by the US was just 14bn. In Sachs' opinion, few of the world's current problems can be solved by military means.

This book was written and published in 2008. It closed on an optimistic note.
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