My book review of "The Age of Sustainable Development" by Jeffrey Sachs: 3 Stars
Jeffrey Sachs basically expands on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by explaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address what he calls extreme poverty, environmental degradation, and political-economic injustice worldwide.
He provides valuable information throughout the book and some insightful solutions to address these issues, such as adaptation by communities to prepare for current and future social, economic, and environmental issues. However, as was the case with the MDGs, much of the focus is on governments solving these problems because there is an assumption that the free market fails to internalize the social cost, fails from asymmetric information, and fails from other reasons leading to the necessity of government intervention. Meanwhile, Sachs doesn't consider the poor choices made by government (public choice) and potential opportunity costs that are often substantially worse than outcomes in the private market.
There are key issues addressed in this book and some good ideas included in the SDGs, but it is too close to central planning for my taste and unlikely to resolve the major issues of our times as we live in a dynamic world where policymakers are often, if not always, behind the curve. However, works such as this might help us get closer to better understanding big social and economic issues and find ways to address them.
Overall, the book is rather repetitive and the recommended actions are based on many assumptions that aren't necessarily supported by data or research. In addition, the public policy choices are based on the precautionary principle that can be very costly.
For example, there is much discussion about getting the world off of fossil fuels (i.e. oil, natural gas, coal, etc.) as a source of energy but there is little to no discussion about the benefits of greening the earth and substantial improvements in well-being from fossil fuels and more greenhouse gases. So, if the world is to get off of fossil fuels and the potential gains from doing so, we must consider the large losses in economic activity and human improvement that would have happened over time. This is a common mistake in much of the environmental research as they focus on the social cost of carbon that's dependent on the discount rate and ridiculous assumptions in large-scale models but dismiss the social benefit of carbon.
I learned much from this book, which is why I gave it 3 stars, but I think there is still much that we need to learn about these issues before making radical global public policy choices. Check it out for yourself.
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Vance Ginn, Ph.D.