Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: The Price of Civilization

I will admit that I approached The Price of Civilization with a lot of skepticism. As an economist, Sachs was famous for being extremely optimistic books such as The End of Poverty---years later, there's still plenty of poverty to go around, thank you very much, Profesor Sachs.

The book itself does admit the large number of problems America faces: corporate corruption of the political system, mass media devoted to selling, a lack of social cohesion leading to inability to agree on even basic life-and-death matters such as healthcare reform, and of course, a failing educational system. All this is covered very well in books such as Republic, Lost, or even Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal. All the evidence point in Sachs favor here, and if you're not a Fox-News conservative, there's enough data that might cause you to rethink your politics.

However, when it comes to prescription, Sachs is overly optimistic. I certainly don't think that the measures he proposes (such as trying to get poor children an education equal in quality to the kids of the rich) could possibly get passed in today's political climate. Not a chance. Zero. Sachs says he's optimistic mostly because of the Millenial generation, but I'm privy to mailing lists dominated by Millenial wealthy (or soon-to-be-wealthy), and I'm sorry, those guys are just as blinkered, over-privileged, and narrowly self-interested as the older wealthy types I've met in my life: the prevailing culture is very much IGMFU.

Ultimately, my thought is that while it's all nice and good that billionaires like Bill Gates are doing their best to eliminate malaria and all that, maybe the best thing they could actually do would be to counter-weight the Koch brothers. Otherwise, those saved from malaria could easily still find themselves stuck in a poor, unhappy world run by Fox News Conservatives.

My biggest problem with this book is that anyone who picks it up probably doesn't already need the persuasion. Unfortunately, there's zero chance that a Fox News Conservative will read the book, or even if he did, agree with any of the "liberal bias evidence." Check it out from the library if you're already evidence-minded, but I can't recommend paying more than $1 for it.
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