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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.

Population is at the core of this book, but Sachs covers many other areas as well. He covers global warming, water shortage and biodiversity in some detail, although I found this the least satisfactory part of the book: this section is a good example of what Bjorn Lomborg called "the litany" in "The Skeptical Environmentalist", and Sachs repeatedly refers to the consensus about man-made global warming, etc, without any acknowledgement that there are those who disagree, e.g. "the outcome, we now know with near certainty, is that human activity is decisively changing the climate...". Sachs is, of course, a "UN man", so may have thought it politically sensible to repeat the IPCC line. In fact, action to prevent man-made global warming forms only a small part of his final recommendations, and I was left wondering to what extent he is really convinced by these arguments. (He puts a great deal of faith in the idea of carbon sequestration from coal burning power stations and industry.) In short, if you tend towards scepticism on MMGW you might skip Part Two, while if you agree with the IPCC's assessment and "the consensus" you will find all your existing views confirmed.

Sachs also talks about foreign policy, and in particular (and not surprisingly), about US Foreign Policy. He is highly critical of the current approach of the US government and of neo-conservatism. This is all probably rather more controversial in the US that it will appear to most European observers. His suggestion that supranational organisations like the European Union represent the future, and that the EU should be strengthened through giving its executive a democratic mandate, may be more challenging to those in the UK. Sachs is clearly not an economist who believes that the free market can deal with all of the world's problems, but nor is he a very "left wing" one. He was, after all, the man responsible for devising (although he dislikes the term) "shock therapy" for dealing with economic malaise in Eastern Europe and South America.

Sachs recommends the creation of six new "global funds", along the line of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, to bring together governments, academics, NGOs, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and businesses to tackle (more) diseases, African food production, the environment, population, infrastructure, education and community development. To achieve this he estimates a cost of 2.4% of GNP for donor countries, including 1% to develop sustainable energy systems to tackle MMGW. This is a great deal more than the rich world is currently spending, but might, Sachs argues, be a small price to pay to remedy the many problems that will otherwise arise, like overpopulation, famine and mass migration.

This is a thought-provoking book. Whether his plans would work, and whether this approach would represent the best use of the substantial funds required, is another question. There must be a fair chance, however, especially if Barack Obama wins the presidential election, that the US will look much more favourably on this multi-lateralist approach to global economic development.

Apart from its parroting of the "global consensus" view on global warming, I have few criticisms of this book, but the main one would be about references. Sachs makes a large number of quite bold statements in the book, but there are no footnotes, although he does give a series of page referenced notes at the end. I was also surprised that Bjorn Lomborg, whose work on ways to reduce world poverty are not so very different from Sachs', gets not a single mention!
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on 29 January 2013
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. Sadly the actions which Sachs expected to be taken have not been taken. In many ways the world has gone backwards. He echoes the Stern Report (2006) in saying that immediate action will be much cheaper than if we delay. And yet, instead of a strengthened Kyoto agreement which Sachs looked forward to in 2012, the actual result concluded last December was even weaker than the original agreement, with many decisions postponed for yet more years. Meanwhile, the US shows no signs of moving away from its policy of using military solutions almost regardless of the nature of the problem, the people of Haiti squat in disease-ridden refugee camps still waiting for the aid funds promised more than a year ago and exceptional weather brings fires and flood to Australia, with hurricanes and blizzards attacking parts of the US with ferocity that they've never seen before.

I very much hope that Jeffrey Sachs will write a sequel, but we can't sit around waiting for it. Spread the word. Take action now. At the risk of sounding histrionic, the future of humanity depends on what we do this week, this month, this year. Leave it much longer and it'll be too late!
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on 3 October 2008
'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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on 9 June 2009
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.
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on 19 January 2010
Whether or not you "believe" in globalisation or is interested in politics, as such, this is book should be on your essential reading list, because it gives a rounded (but not boring) analysis.

It an easy and straight forward read that uses economic evidence to explain the fundamental "drivers" behind trade globalisation, population explosion and innovation. The econonics and social-science is so well explained that the issues are easy to understand. At no point does it get more 'technical' than say the Economist Magasin. And the evidence-based approach with lots of graphs and data is presented in a helpful way and the data does not get in the way of a good read.

Having read the book, I wish that many more would read it too. Those working in international development (and especially in the public sector) are likely to know about Prof Sachs and his previous work. I didn't and I work in the private sector - emerging markets - where the insights given by this book have been invaluable in widening my thinking and strategies.
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on 18 January 2015
A far-reaching book that explains most of the issues very simply and clearly. Suffers a bit from repetition, for avoidance of all doubt, which given the size of the book, doesn't help. The print is small - the book is bigger than you think. But a wealth of information and considered analysis.
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on 16 July 2015
I should say that the seller did an excellent job - 5 stars for the seller. However the book itself is absolutely terrible, a typical mass production line by sachs. I've read a few of his books and he is an incredibly lazy and careless writer IMO. So 1 star for Sachs, but 5 stars for the seller
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on 25 September 2008
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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on 25 July 2009
What is this book about? It's about our future. Jeffrey Sachs describes the world in the twenty first century. He begins with an estimation of the development of the world population and the growth engine of the world. This is the main themes of the book. The third problem he faces is the ecological dimension of the world. His vision is the future of the world in fifty years. What will be there and witch problems must be solved till then. Every prediction is wrong. It's a matter of fact. In the seventies of the last century the Club of Rome had the same problem. The Limits of Growth was a bad prediction and every prediction of what will be in the future must fail. What will be if we go on in the same way? This is his question. Look to the present and you can find the solution. If we change this and that will give you a better way to cope with the future. Change must come in small parts. It is better to start in little step now, than to make a big solution over countries. In some parts he finds that solution in small steps. Like the millennium villages. But In most parts of the underdeveloped world are wars. This is a big problem to rural development and common wealth.

But back to the book. The second and third part reflects the population and ecological dimension. It starts with the human population and its development. He sees that the overcrowding of the planet had an enormous effect on the environment. The ecological disaster is maintained in the rising of the carbon dioxide emission. The main part of our effort is to reduce it world wide and get the world to use new technologies to prevent new emissions. Another problem is to solve the water distribution in many parts of the underdeveloped world.

What is his economic solution? He begins with the four stages of economic development. It is very academic and with no great use for the actual situation in many underdeveloped countries. He compares Iceland with India and explains his need for change. His ideas are very general. You can find it in every book on the subject. What I miss in this book is the practical dimension. You need no carbon capture and sequestration program to reduce the emission. We have emission trading and taxation. These are better solutions for the present. If you influence the price on a direct way you can produce new technologies. The fertilisation rate is a second order problem. If you get prosperity on the way, it means education for the kids and work for the women than the population problem will reduce itself. In the last chapter he begins with you. What can you do? The small steps of a combined action of health care companies and NGO are the first steps to get a little closer to the solution. Every state is his own sovereign. You can not find good solutions over a number of countries. You can see that in the WTO or the Kyoto treaty. Common Wealth needs money to be financed. If you find new forms of technologies or a better welfare state system you must look for the money in the economy. Today the help is limited and need a lot of action to get organised. The book describes the situation and prevents that the poor people gets poorer. Common wealth means that the income must rise over decades.
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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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