Economist Sachs (Earth Institute/Columbia Univ.; The End of Poverty, 2005, etc.) limns social, environmental and economic forces that are reshaping the planet—for better or worse remains to be seen.
Thanks to technological and agricultural innovations, Sachs writes, economic growth has reached into every corner of the globe, particularly in Asia, and “the world on average is rapidly getting richer in terms of income per person.” At the same time, the population continues to grow, increasingly concentrated in vast cities. More people earning more means more consumption. In the face of this and against the likelihood of resource scarcity, can that growth be sustained? Sachs examines the prospects, suggesting that the greater challenge may be simply to lift the poor nations of the world, mostly in Africa, to some sort of health while improving life everywhere. In that regard, he observes, citizens of the United States have suffered the dismantling of social services, a “great right-wing attack [that] . . . has systematically reduced the scope of the social welfare system in health care, job protection, child support, housing support, and retirement security.” Yet, he optimistically adds, the financial cost of making “major corrections” is small relative to the size of the U.S. economy, assuming proper prioritizing—the war in Iraq, for instance, is costing “roughly 1 percent of national income each year in direct outlays” that could otherwise subsidize universal healthcare coverage. In Africa, improvement in public investments—assuming corruption in the system can be removed, that is—can spur private investment and even prompt an economic boom. The future need not be grim, Sachs maintains, but getting to a better one will require concerted international effort, UN leadership and private initiative.
A welcome contribution to the sustainable-development literature, accessible to nonspecialist readers but most useful to those with grounding in economics and international policy.