This is the latest in a spate of books provoked by the world economic crisis and one of the best. Jeffrey Sachs calls himself a “clinical economist”. In The End of Poverty he applied his clinician’s skills to the distempers of Africa; in this book he turns them to the hubristic and wasteful habits of America. The details of the Fall – if by that he means the collapse of the American banking system in 2008 – do not concern him; it is what the Fall tells us about contemporary American capitalism.
In structure, the book is a bit like a medical treatise: the symptoms are identified, their causes diagnosed, the cures prescribed. However, the science is a bit of a veneer. Sachs is a very political doctor. This does not mean he has written a bad book. He is a fine economist and statistician, and if you want to stockpile facts and arguments for radical advocacy, this is the book for you. I had hoped, though, for something more arresting than a millennium manifesto for the Democratic party.
It is also a very American book. This is not just because it is exclusively about the United States – with the existence of a few European countries acknowledged occasionally as reference points; it is suffused with classic American optimism. The “American people” are good, but policy has been captured by the “interests”. Dethrone the interests and the goodness of the people will assert itself. American conservatives and radicals both sing to this hymn sheet, differing only about the source of the evil: for the Tea Party it is “big government”, for Democrats such as Sachs it is big business. Both find difficulty in explaining why the good people are so often duped by one or the other…
Read the full article at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/06/price-civilization-jeffrey-sachs-review
Robert Skidelsky is professor of political economy at Warwick University.