The Price Of Civilization

a book review

titleThe Price Of Civilization
sub-titleEconomics And Ethics After The Fall
authorJeffrey Sachs
date reviewed2013.03.03

To describe this book, I'll present the final paragraph: "We are, in the end, stewards of the future at a time when our shared future is imperiled by economic divisions, shortsightedness, and a growing ecological crisis. We have great tasks ahead, to redeem once again the American trust in democracy and equality. We have a high responsibility to our children and other generations that will come. Let us begin anew."

This sums up the author's ambitions, and he does an excellent job of describing the problems faced by American-and to one extent or another, all modern (post-)industrialized nations. Adding to the usual woes of a poorly educated, entitled, unmotivated, and excluded population, the author adds two clear messages:

1. North American society is literally disintegrating - people no longer interact with one another in anything like the way they once did, but instead have switched the focus of their relationships to being media-focused. Staying in to watch TV instead of going to the local meeting places (it's hard to imagine what these would even be - sports bars?) has made it impossible to really behave like a society.

2. The selfish and self-interested actions of the wealthy have essentially poisoned and crippled all levels of government. On purpose, for short-term gain.

It's a compelling read.

But then, as often seems to be the case, the author sticks to what he knows in the way of solutions, speaking of fine adjustments to the dials and levers of the economy. At an age where it's looking more and more like the managers of the economy have completely lost the thread of events, I just don't believe that these are the answer. It's not until the very end of the book where the author returns to the book's main points that he thinks in more concrete terms:

+ turn off the wailing machine that is the modern media and become better-informed

+ renew the country's interest in science and understand the ecological crisis

+ understand how the government works and how its budget is allocated

+ invest in our own good health, safe environment, knowledge, and skills

The book has a left-of-center viewpoint without being hysterical about it (a refreshing change) and the practical tone and readable style help convey an important message.