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Book Review: The Constant Economy: How to Build a Stable Society by Zac Goldsmith

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The Constant Economy, written by Zac Goldsmith (a politician affiliated with the Conservative Party of Britain), provides a vision for an environmentally-sustainable economy with specific policy recommendations for Britain. 

With less emphasis on economic philosophy than, say, the works of E.F. Schumacher, Goldsmith brings up some alarming facts to support his point that there really needs to be a fundamental change in how our economy runs. He points out that childhood cancer has been increasing by 1% every year since the 1950s, which he believes is connected with the fact that there are more than a hundred thousand artificial chemicals released into the environment (with an additional thousand added each year). Another fact he points out is that 1% of three-year-old girls in America now show signs of puberty.

There are other horror stories; for example, one laboratory in Oregon tried to genetically engineer a bacterium to break down plant waste into ethanol. Great idea, right? The researchers were successful. Too successful, in fact; the bacteria outcompeted the soil fungi that allow plants to grow, rendering the entire soil infertile. The scientists later estimated that had they released this bacteria into the wild, all plant life on Earth might have been obliterated. 

One key point that Goldsmith makes is that the government should set higher standards for environmentally-friendly products, but not go into detail and prescribe detailed policy. He credits this very issue with enabling Germany’s advancement over Britain.

Goldsmith also explains why GDP is a bad measure of economic well-being. In addition, he explains how organic food actually produces many more crops than industrial farming, but because industrial farming requires fewer farmworkers, it is still profitable and therefore the dominant form of farming. Industrial farming is itself unsustainable, as it damages the soil in the long term. He goes into detail how subsidies are provided not for renewable energy sources, but for oil and gas. Yes, people’s tax money actually goes toward subsidizing oil instead of solar, wind, and water.

Goldsmith is a big advocate of localized economy. He knows that shipping food from different parts of the globe will result in unsustainable energy demands, and incredible amounts of pollution. He also explains how many products are designed purposely to break down in the short term, so that consumers will have to continually shell out cash to live. It’s a bad deal for both the consumer and the environment. Fortunately, Goldsmith provides solutions here as well.

For a detailed summary, look here. Otherwise, I’d like to stop here and say that I do recommend this book. For those serious about politics, this is a great way to move from the more philosophical aspects of environmentalism into good policy.

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