Costs of Living

Daniel Gross reviews Jeffrey D. Sachs’s new book, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, in the New York Times Book Review:

Screenhunter_02_may_17_1920The timing for Jeffrey D. Sachs’s new book on how to avert global economic catastrophe couldn’t be better, with food riots in Haiti, oil topping $120 a barrel and a gnawing sense that there’s just less of everything — rice, fossil fuels, credit — to go around. Of course, we’ve been here before. In the 19th century, Thomas Malthus teased out the implications of humans reproducing more rapidly than the supply of food could grow. In 1972, the Club of Rome published, to much hoopla, a book entitled “Limits to Growth.” The thesis: There are too many people and too few natural resources to go around. In 1978, Mr. Smith, my sixth-grade science teacher, proclaimed that there was sufficient petroleum to last 25 to 30 years. Well, as Yogi Berra once may have said, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

And yet. Even congenital optimists have good reason to suspect that this time the prophets of economic doom may be on point, with the advent of seemingly unstoppable developments like climate change and the explosive growth of China and India. Which is why Sachs’s book — lucid, quietly urgent and relentlessly logical — resonates. Things are different today, he writes, because of four trends: human pressure on the earth, a dangerous rise in population, extreme poverty and a political climate characterized by “cynicism, defeatism and outdated institutions.” These pressures will increase as the developing world inexorably catches up to the developed world.

More here.