The book is subtitled appropriately "A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Order." It functions in a substantial way as the missing "content" for the Occupy Wall Street movement people who know that global capitalism and its political elite are screwing the middle and lower classes and the world environment but don't know exactly how they are doing it and how to change things. The book provides an unusually lucid analysis of the American political-economic system which should make clear to the Tea Partiers what their real targets of rage should be (it's not merely the Democrats nor the federal government.) Nearly everyone else who wants a "big picture" comprehensive analysis of the global economic system will be educated by this book.
The author, Ross Jackson, identifies who and what is responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown and many other problems in society. Most prominent are a seriously-flawed "neo-liberal economic philosophy" and the political-elite class which sponsors that philosophy for self-interested reasons at the expense of the rest of us. Jackson makes clear that economic philosophical theory is not value free and is class politics in disguise. But way more importantly than the mere class versus class struggle, the neo-liberal economic philosophy has created severe energy and environmental problems which are almost certain to lead soon to major economic and political disruptions affecting the entire globe.
The author's main perspective is as an environmentalist; he utilizes a systems approach of an overarching environmental model where the global environment is a closed, finite system and the economic, political, and other topics are subsystems of the whole. The book explains (in six parts and 17 chapters) how and why our existing economic model is failing and will create environmental, economic, and political chaos unless it is replaced soon with an economic model emphasizing "sustainability" and "development" versus simple "unlimited growth." Jackson explains in the second half of the book what we can do about it, hopefully before it's too late for future generations to have a chance for civilized life.
I have never heard before of Mr.Jackson, but he is bound to be (or at least should be) hailed as a top-notch public intellectual. He is a brilliant analyst of global economics, politics, and environmental matters; and a clever synthesist of the relevant economics, politics, philosophy, environmental science, psychology, sociology, history, physics, and biology, which apply to his examination.
He has an unusually broad and diverse background as a global currency trader, executive of a nonprofit environmental organization, software designer and businessman, and degrees in engineering physics, industrial management, and operations research. This may explain, in part, his ability to see major categories of human life with such a wide lens while also being able to analyze the subcategories and the factual data.
Part One explains the scientific and economic reasons why the neo-liberal approach of unending growth is unsustainable and a lie. It is a lie because it implies, at least, that everyone has a chance ultimately to achieve the high level of consumption of the successful capitalists and that the high consumption gravy train will go on forever. He uses biological, environmental, and mathematical data to show that the neo-liberal assumption of infinite natural capital has already resulted in net deficits of global energy resources, and that the world (and the neo-liberal economic system) will end frightfully unless we reduce population, give up the idea of "more of everything is better," redesign and downsize our economies, use less fossil energies, and emphasize sustainability.
The next two parts explain the politics and human factors which drive the irrational economic policies. He goes into good detail about historical economic theory from the mercantile period, to the classical free trade period, to our existing neo-liberal period. He clearly explains how and why the 2008 financial crisis occurred and why it is likely to repeat itself, and how the current debt crisis in Europe (and elsewhere) happened and why the European Union is not equipped even now to successfully deal with it. Any effort to address it (using the existing neo-liberal strategies) will be temporary and the crises will deepen.
His discussions on the neo-liberal insistence on a deregulated economic environment, free flow of global capital, and the use of exotic financial instruments and transactions, especially naked short sales, are the clearest I've read about how these elements de-stabilized the global economy. They will continue to do so as long as those who (very lucratively) benefit from them (the political elite) insist upon them regardless of the consequences to hapless small nations and their economies, small businesses, and people like you and me. He thoroughly and lucidly explains how this political-economic philosophy destroys real democracy, including in America. What we have, he says, is a corporatocracy which dominates much of political and social life through the forces of wealth and ideology.
Mr. Jackson is also a political-economic visionary of the highest order as shown in the second half of the book by his "break away" strategy where he sets out his alternative environmentalist paradigm. It is a new worldview emphasizing the finite reality of our natural resources, especially energy ones, and how we should alter much of what we do to comply with that reality. He argues for a new set of social values harmonious with a holistic sense of people and nature being part of one "system." The values of that system include smallness, localization, quality versus quantity, interrelationships, and long-term perspectives.
These values are organized into a moderately sophisticated set of new global political and economic institutions modeled much like the European Union but emphasizing environmental issues and designed to satisfy long-term environmental needs. This process will also lead to enhancing of true human values in the political sphere, especially in more effective democracies.
The "breaking away" strategy starts with small nation states building a new economic paradigm based upon the environmental perspective, rejecting the flawed and elitist global institutions we have now (the WTO, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), and even developing new currency systems. The nation states will be supported by a grassroots activist movement which will create local eco-communities and more self-reliant economies while lobbying existing political powers to get on board with the new paradigm. The measurements of success will not be GNP or GDP but the broader-based measures of social happiness and human rights. (Take the case of the nation of Bhutan which measures its activity by a standard called "Gross National Happiness Index.")
The parts of the book explaining the roles of the neo-liberal economic philosophy and the political elite are solidly presented and not really new. The program of change he proposes, however, is new and intellectually sound. Being intellectually sound, however, is not sufficient to affect change. There is a gap, it seems, between the ideas and what is necessary to activate people at the grassroots level. Relatively few people in reality will even read this book. The ideas need to be connected to "street-level" understandings, perhaps tied to basic human values of respect and dignity. The roadmap proposed here, Mr. Jackson acknowledges, needs much more development.
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