Sets out the predicament we are in, unfortuneately too much emphasis on Global Warming and resource depletion. A good primer for those interested in Economics and Politics it has a large section on recommended reading at the back. This book doesn't have all the answers but gives insight as to where to look for inspiration.
This is the book that accompanies the film Four Horsemen. It addresses the big lie that there is no alternative to free market capitalism. If you've seen the film, which I recommend, then you won't be puzzled by the use of apocalyptic symbolism. The authors begin by discussing General Sir John Glubb essay, The Fate of Empires, and show that our society, the entire First World, shows all the signs of terminal decline that is seen in historical empires. The four signs of trouble, the four horse men are:
Black Horse: A rapacious financial system. Red Horse: Organized violence & terrorism. White Horse: Poverty. Green Horse: Environmental breakdown.
The book the proceeds to explain some of the background to the problem. Explanations of economics and finance are aimed at general readers with little or no prior knowledge, and seem designed to give you just enough knowledge to see the problems. For instance we read about the demonstrably false assumptions made by mainstream economists. Of particular interest in 2012 is their analysis of the finance system which gives insights into what got us into the current crisis--banks creating money. The idea that banks create money when they lend is a little counter-intuitive, but it's important to get it straight.
An eye opener for me was the discussion of rent seeking. Production has three factors: labour, capital, and land. Labour gets wages, capital gets profit, and land gets rent. Landowners get wealthier without any effort as land values increase, and are not taxed. If land was taxed then we could reduce the load on labour and capital.
There is quite a lot of discussion of the consequences of economic inequality, which is currently increasing both within countries. They say for instance: "It follows that economic justice between nations is key to reducing the number of wars". The First World seems to have purposefully pursued policies of creating inequality.
The books echoes the sentiment that continual growth on a planet with finite resources is madness. Their idea of a steady state economy would help with this problem. The most radical suggestion in the book is that the world should see the planet's resources, particularly mineral resources, as common property; that nations should not be able to profit from the accidents of nature that places oil, coal, or aluminium under their feet.
The program of change has three main planks: reform of money towards a steady state economy; reform of taxation away from taxing wages and profit and towards taxing land and unearned wealth, and the use of tax to offset the adverse effects of economic activity; and reform of the finance system so that banks cannot create money. As well there are parallel changes required from sectors like the media.
The program of change is extremely idealistic and at times it's hard to see how such changes might come about, especially when they involve international co-operation. It may be that we continue to put off thinking about this until some great catastrophe occurs. Many economists are predicting another global economic crisis before the end of 2013, which will probably begin in Europe this time.
The last section is a very useful summary of the content of the book in 27 principles. These are a good reminder, and would be a good place to start for people wishing to discuss the film or book.
The book is well written and provides a good introduction to the issues. It does help to have seen the film which helps to set the tone. Approaching the book with little knowledge of economics I found the arguments compelling and the explanations on the whole easy to follow. I could have wished for more on the difference between wealth and money, which I still struggle with. There are one or two things that would have made me rate this book 4 stars rather than 5, but also I took into account how important I think the message is. Everyone should read this!
In the interest of openness I should say that I received a review copy of the book from the authors, and I have written articles for their blog [...], but I have not received any payment for either, and we are not associated in any other way.
I've just read The Survival Manual and can't recommend it highly enough - an excellent read!. It weaves together the big themes of our day intelligently and comprehensively, identifying the root causes of problems and setting out a compelling case for how we need to go about fixing them.