The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity : Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity
For more than three decades, Jeffrey D. Sachs has been at the forefront of international economic problem solving. But Sachs turns his attention back home in The Price of Civilization, a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country's economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity.
As he has done in dozens of countries around the world in the midst of economic crises, Sachs turns his unique diagnostic skills to what ails the American economy. He finds that both political parties--and many leading economists--have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization's long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America's single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities.
Yet Sachs goes deeper than an economic diagnosis. By taking a broad, holistic approach--looking at domestic politics, geopolitics, social psychology, and the natural environment as well--Sachs reveals the larger fissures underlying our country's current crisis. He shows how Washington has consistently failed to address America's economic needs. He describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. He also looks at the crisis in our culture, in which an overstimulated and consumption-driven populace in a ferocious quest for wealth now suffers shortfalls of social trust, honesty, and compassion.
Finally, Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America's abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another. Most important, he bids each of us to accept the price of civilization, so that together we can restore America to its great promise.
The Price of Civilization is a masterly road map for prosperity, founded on America's deepest values and on a rigorous understanding of the twenty-first-century world economy.
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1 . solid read
Posted December 28, 2011 by rickey woody , lubbockSachs does a great job of looking at the historical impact of the progressive tax system and how the system properly used built this country. He also deals with the current process of tax cuts and the continued declining revenues and how that whole process over the past 30 years has lead us to this point. Not everything is perfect in the book, but the book will make even the most conservative reader think.
October 04, 2011
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Excerpt from The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity by Jeffrey Sachs
The Great Crash
Diagnosing America's Economic Crisis
A Crisis of Values
At the root of America's economic crisis lies a moralcrisis: the decline of civic virtue among America's political and economicelite. A society of markets, laws, and elections is not enough if the rich andpowerful fail to behave with respect, honesty, and compassion toward the restof society and toward the world. America has developed the world's mostcompetitive market society but has squandered its civic virtue along the way.Without restoring an ethos of social responsibility, there can be no meaningfuland sustained economic recovery.
I find myself deeply surprised and unnerved to have towrite this book. During most of my forty years in economics I have assumed thatAmerica, with its great wealth, depth of learning, advanced technologies, anddemocratic institutions, would reliably find its way to social betterment. Idecided early on in my career to devote my energies to the economic challengesabroad, where I felt the economic problems were more acute and in need ofattention. Now I am worried about my own country. The economic crisis of recentyears reflects a deep, threatening, and ongoing deterioration of our nationalpolitics and culture of power.
The crisis, I will argue, developed gradually over thecourse of several decades. We are not facing a short-term business cycledownturn, but the working out of long-term social, political, and economictrends. The crisis, in many ways, is the culmination of an era-the baby boomerera-rather than of particular policies or presidents. It is also a bipartisanaffair: both Democrats and Republicans have played their part in deepening thecrisis. On many days it seems that the only difference between the Republicans andDemocrats is that Big Oil owns the Republicans while Wall Street owns theDemocrats. By understanding the deep roots of the crisis, we can move beyondillusory solutions such as the "stimulus" spending of 2009-2010, thebudget cuts of 2011, and the unaffordable tax cuts that are implemented yearafter year. These are gimmicks that distract us from the deeper reforms neededin our society.
The first two years of the Obama presidency show that oureconomic and political failings are deeper than that of a particular president.Like many Americans, I looked to Barack Obama as the hope for a breakthrough.Change was on the way, or so we hoped; yet there has been far more continuitythan change. Obama has continued down the well-trodden path of open-ended war inAfghanistan, massive military budgets, kowtowing to lobbyists, stingy foreignaid, unaffordable tax cuts, unprecedented budget deficits, and a disquietingunwillingness to address the deeper causes of America's problems. Theadministration is packed with individuals passing through the revolving doorthat connects Wall Street and the White House. In order to find deep solutionsto America's economic crisis, we'll need to understand why the Americanpolitical system has proven to be so resistant to change.
The American economy increasingly serves only a narrowpart of society, and America's national politics has failed to put the countryback on track through honest, open, and transparent problem solving. Too manyof America's elites-among the super-rich, the CEOs, and many of my colleaguesin academia-have abandoned a commitment to social responsibility. They chasewealth and power, the rest of society be damned.
We need to reconceive the idea of a good society in theearly twenty-first century and to find a creative path toward it. Mostimportant, we need to be ready to pay the price of civilization throughmultiple acts of good citizenship: bearing our fair share of taxes, educatingourselves deeply about society's needs, acting as vigilant stewards for futuregenerations, and remembering that compassion is the glue that holds societytogether. I would suggest that a majority of the public understands thischallenge and accepts it. During my research for this book, I becamereacquainted with my fellow Americans, not only through countless discussionsbut also through hundreds of opinion surveys on, and studies of, Americanvalues. I was delighted with what I found. Americans are very different fromthe ways the elites and the media pundits want us to see ourselves. TheAmerican people are generally broad-minded, moderate, and generous. These arenot the images of Americans we see on television or the adjectives that come tomind when we think of America's rich and powerful elite. But America'spolitical institutions have broken down, so that the broad public no longerholds these elites to account. And alas, the breakdown of politics alsoimplicates the broad public. American society is too deeply distracted by ourmedia-drenched consumerism to maintain the habits of effective citizenship.
I am a macroeconomist, meaning that I study the overallfunctioning of a national economy rather than the workings of one particularsector. My operating principle is that the economy is intimately interconnectedwith a much broader drama that includes politics, social psychology, and thenatural environment. Economic issues can rarely be understood in isolation,though most economists fall into that trap. An effective macroeconomist mustlook at the big canvas, in which culture, domestic politics, geopolitics,public opinion, and environmental and natural resource constraints all playimportant roles in economic life.