The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs

book jacketThe Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs (2015)

This is a book worth reading despite some egregious realities that are not even touched on at all (disability). It has a massive scope ranging from poverty and economics to healthcare and fertility, biodiversity and climate change, and more. With pictures! And graphs!

More than a bit depressing and overwhelming too since we humans were gifted with brains and mainly chose to use for exploitation and degradation of all of earth and life of all kinds.

I wanted it to read the chapter (11) on “Resilient Cities”

Do you remember the Republican legislator wanna be that advocated returning to old school bartering chickens for medical services? Apart from sheer lunacy, the world that made that possible bears no resemblance to the world of today. At the time it was obvious that you’d have to have a lot of chickens to pay for a $70,000 heart surgery, and people can’t keep chickens in urban areas with which to barter.

The first paragraph of chapter 11 (p. 355) states this in a very quantifiable way: it is part of “the patterns of URBANIZATION around the world” that have changed so dramatically.

Something remarkable happened in 2008 according to the UN official data: for the first time in ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY, more than 50% of the human population lives in cities.

The Industrial Revolution triggered much of this.

According to one leading expert in this area, the late economic historian Paul Bairoch, Europe’s average urbanization rate in 1800 was 10.9 percent (with urban areas defined by the threshold of 5,000 people or more in one aggregation; Bairoch and Goertz 1985, 289).

Fertilizers enabled more yield and scientific farming practices helped, plus machinery, and several other factors courtesy of the Industrial Revolution. This meant that farmers had more food they could sell and support the people who could not grow their own, i.e. city dwellers.

Wow. Page 359 states there are about 30 “cities” (not legal entities but population clusters) of over 10 MILLION people. I can’t even begin to imagine how so much food can be made and delivered to so many people. The author notes that:

. . . citiies are distinguished by the kind of economic activity that they host. While cities are home to a small amount of farming, cities by and large are home to industry and services. In the high-income countries, services are the overwhelming activity. Retail and wholesale trade, education, finance, law, medicine, entertainment, public administration, and other service activities dominate the city economies.

Third, cities are relatively productive are of the national economy. The average output per person in urban areas is often two or three times higher than the rural areas of the same country. The migration of workers from rural to urban areas is often accompanied by a significant rise in national productivity, measured as total output per worker.

Fourth, as noted earlier, cities are the locus of a tremendous amount of innovative activities, whether it is universities, research laboratories, or major businesses introducing new products.

The graph, FYI, shows three American cities on the 10 million plus list, in order: New York/Newark, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The highest is Tokyo and approaches close to 40 MILLION PEOPLE in it as an urban area. Dehli is second at about 25 million, and Shanghai about 22 million. Mexico City is next and then this 5th place is where New York/Newark hits the list at 5th largest urban area.

The enumeration of the qualities of cities goes on through ten distinctions. I found it notably deficient that the author cited that: “Many cities must cope with the potential for massive crime and violence RESULTING from the high concentration of human interactions.” (p. 362) He goes on to cite policing as an “advantage” to cities. It is possible he did not want to get sidetracked (why don’t more nonfiction books have graphically distinct sidebars for this purpose?) but I would like to see some proof of crime as the inevitable result of many human interactions per se rather than lack of food, lack of jobs, lack of sanitation, lack of clean water, and lack of public services; just so much absent social support at all [all hail the Free Market of Profiteering and Exploitation]. Toss in discrimination, poverty, misogyny, racism, caste systems, and income and wealth inequality, and I think you would find crime in populations of twenty people if only one family owned everything and controlled everything about the other people’s lives.

sidebar: The book has high quality glossy paper so the graphs and photos look good but I am having trouble reading the text because the ambient light is glaring enough to obscure the words on the shiny pages.

Since most of the world will live in cities, it is important to ask what makes a city sustainable. The answer is threefold (according to the three dimensions of sustainable development). Sustainable cities are economically productive, socially (and politically) inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. In other words, they must promote efficient economic activities, ensure that all citizens acan benefit from them, and must do so in a way to preserve the biodiversity, are are and water, and physical health and safety of the citizens, especially in an age of climate change and increasing vulnerability to extreme climate conditions. (p. 366)

Sigh. For all the attention the author gives to global concerns and such a wide range of issues, he cannot break free from the longstanding dogma that ALL PEOPLE (except the rich) MUST DO WAGE WORK to deserve to live. He cites “Cities need to be places where individuals can find DECENT, PRODUCTIVE work, and businesses can produce and trade EFFICIENTLY.” Efficiency is code for as cheap as possible with the maximum profit for themselves and avoiding any taxes to support the public infrastructure or provide social justice and a safety net against all the forces previously described.

Dude, someone will always have to clean toilets or shovel shit. Productive work obviously means producing PROFIT for the capitalists with so much money they don’t have to use it all for economic security. Once again, despite the not complete grasp of women’s issues when discussing fertility and population, he fails like all the economics material I have ever read, GDP NEVER INCLUDES women’s *unpaid* labor and is disregarded as NON PRODUCTIVE.

I saw no reference whatsoever to the concept of universal (or unrestricted) basic income. This would be an amount paid without regard to work status, race, sex, or anything for CITIZENS. No more “welfare queen” shaming. No more bureaucracy full of obstacles assuming you are a lazy shirker or a careless slut who has too many babies by multiple fathers and therefore undeserving of any financial assistance or hot lunches for school kids. Tax dollars would be available for all of this and more if the millionaire and billionaires had not hijacked the government and not had to pay a proportional amount of tax (including an uncapped Social Security on EARNED and UNEARNED INCOME), as well as the many account and lawyer tax dodges to reduce their net amount of taxes due (if it is legal it is morally and ethically justifiable).

They are sick hoarders who make trust funds for their spawn who never have to work a day in their lives and still whine about the pittance of estate tax that is the tool by which accumulation of excessive wealth (at the expense of the working class) returns some investment to the people who made the wealth with their actual physical labor rather than shuffling papers and gambling their excess wealth at the casinos of Wall Street.

How despicable is it that children must not be allowed hot lunches paid by tax payers as a PUBLIC GOOD but investment income is taxed lower than the lowest income tax (i.e. earned/wage income) and the tax code is written to benefit businesses? How is that not being dependent on government handouts? How is it that businesses and corporate “people” have one set of rules and “morality” and actual humans who are NOT IMMORTAL have to work until they die, sooner rather than later in the United States since our government chooses TO PROFIT ON SICK PEOPLE by denying them medical care as a right.

How can profits be sheltered from tax offshore but IRS formulas make sure that ALL waiters/waitresses/servers have to pay tax on imaginary tips that they may have earned and might not have had to share. Plus their minimum wage is NOT the minimum wage of other people because businesses got a deal so that instead of helping servers get ahead by working harder and providing good service to get good tips, tips are included as a way to meet the actual minimum wage of other workers.

In other words, when you pay for a meal and tip, not only are you paying for the restaurant overhead, food supplies and preparation,  your tip contributes to the restaurant’s PROFIT because they don’t have to pay a consistent living wage on which the servers can depend and budget with. The businesses also get to avoid all kinds of other costs that are borne by the worker, the government, or the customers. Obviously, they have to make a profit but maybe there should be a cap until all employees earn a living wage plus benefits? Otherwise we taxpayers are paying for their assistance when they experience wage theft, deliberate inconsistent scheduling hours and days, and so many other techniques that are good for business at the cost of the COMMON GOOD.

Why should churches and non-profits not have to pay a tax for road maintenance, sewers, water, power, and public transportation? Fire and police cost money for cities to staff and maintain and purchase equipment. Why should only worker bees and for profit companies carry their share too? Sure separation of church and state, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t have to include PROPERTY TAX that also pays for public schools for their members.

He mentions the court systems are there TO ENFORCE CONTRACTS! He does not mention SERVING JUSTICE! For example, corporations can afford teams of high priced lawyers to fight civil lawsuits but a human person without capital cannot obtain justice when they cannot afford a lawyer. Obviously, many taxpayers would say, “your lost limb/foreclosure/job discrimination is not my problem” thinking they would never need the services of a lawyer in a civil case. I remain shocked that Gideon won his Supreme Court case to win the right to a state-provided criminal case attorney. There can be no justice when it can only be bought.

OMG his concern for maintaining urban infrastructure is not based on preventing people from homelessness, or poverty, or polluted water per se, but:

When the urban infrastructure fails, the city is overwhelmed by congestion, crime, pollution, and BROKEN CONTRACTS THAT IMPEDE BUSINESS, JOB CREATION, AND FORWARD-LOOKING INVESTMENT. (still p. 366)

Ack. He goes on about “social inclusion” as part of urban planning but again avoids the whole issue of systemic failure to provide for the vaunted “social mobility” such as one could attain by mandating NO PRIVATE SCHOOLS FOR THE RICH ALLOWED. No rent control to keep landlords from profiteering off people with limited choices. No MANDATES for affordable units as 50% of any development so we end up with “Luxury Rentals” with marble floors and stainless steel refrigerators that cost more than minimum wage earners make in a month. Paycheck to paycheck living by the majority of people does not allow the dream of owning a home become a reality because there is nothing left to save and if there were it would all go to the next root canal, flat tire, and diapers. No cap on CEO salaries in relation to the lowest paid employee simply provides an easy way for corruption to be justified. I do not think cities are legal entities that can MANDATE anything such for social justice so businesses will always rule the city life without regard for the residents.

Because of the choke hold of business interests on cities, no city management has the legal authority or political will to MANDATE “environmental sustainability” because MANDATES, REGULATIONS, and MITIGATION requirements are deemed anti-free market. This position has been proven false time and time again for the life of the United States and corporations are making billions of dollars still, even though they MAY NOT, theoretically, require workers to work 10 hour days in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions for less than minimum wage (with all the exceptions written into the supposed safety and fairness labor laws).

The history of court cases is littered with decisions that irrationally favored businesses over human beings. People DIED to establish unions that could offset the TOTAL LIFE AND DEATH control over employees. There would be no weekend without labor protests. There will be no minimum wage if they can succeed in eliminating the Department of Labor and all the regulations that have saved lives since it was created. Nor will there be unemployment insurance (barely there now, capped at a two year LIFETIME maximum). If a business can force you to work long hours unpaid. This is one way salaried workers recently got screwed out of a higher minimum base that would have forced overtime pay for anyone earning over $45 thousand dollars if a 1973 figure that was originally used to limit overtime eligibility and had been adjusted to current dollar values.

Oh well; I don’t know why I am continuously surprised at such a failure to grasp what is obvious to me.

The chapter continues with a discussion illustrated by a table on “urban density and commutes in major U.S. cities.” He advocates high density cities for ecological reasons (lower emissions) and of course “MORE EFFICIENT TRADE (with smaller distances to cover).” Not, one would expect to see given the table about commutes, to save PEOPLE time to get to work or shop. Though he does briefly include the phrase “low level of time wasted” as a function of infrastructure. The prior emphasis on TRADE though, means what has always been the case: time or money.

The rich can live downtown near their workplace (in my city) and all the fancy restaurants. The poor must live further and further away and commute longer and longer distances while having to work the same 8 hour day. If they don’t have a car, they better hope the city infrastructure has good transit, but most don’t because of the way cities developed for a hundred years or more and geography. If they have a car and do drive to work, it falls to the worker to PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE OF WORKING in most cases, including paying for parking. This means we have a city with limited parking that costs at least one hour of minimum wage (or more) just to park to go to work. Businesses are allowed to be built without providing for employee parking and sometimes not even much for CUSTOMER PARKING.

Transit is the popular political push to get people out of their cars. And by people, I mean POOR PEOPLE because according to the law of time or money, they are priced out of car and parking, and must still get to work. Without affordable housing downtown, they must spend more time getting to and from work via stop and go transit or park and ride lots. And transit, even while subsidized, still costs the poor workers $$$$.

Standard transit concepts do  not meet the needs of wage workers. Transit costs money, costs UNCOMPENSATED time, and doesn’t even go all the places people need to go. So basically with our city, we have a “hub and spoke” system so outlying employees (the poor ones who have no choice but to pay with time) can get downtown to work, but then have to go home to get their car to go grocery shopping, or to visit friends, or for other shopping. A complex web full of holes and infrequent vehicles and utter unknown (did I miss the bus? When will the next one be here? Can I get there from here? Can I get from here to there and then to there and then to there?

Every possible place you need to get to requires extensive planning and hoping for reliable time tables. You cannot be late for work. So you go early to the bus stop, maybe there is no shelter and it is raining or -20 with the windchill. There are apps now that can show you when busses will arrive, but you are powerless to either make them go faster or in some cities, the busses can be FULL and you have to wait for the next one. You can’t get from work to the dentist 3 miles away because there is no bus, or the bus only runs on the hour and you only have an hour for lunch to go (meaning you go without lunch).

Sorry for the rambling. I will stop now. I just get so frustrated that with all the transit “planning” I have been listening too, no one is covering the essential nature of time or money and you can’t get there from here.

Oh wait, I had one more rant already written:

Time or money is particularly noticeable in the Bay area where I lived for a few years. Only it has gotten much worse; no artist can now afford to live in the City much less rent studio space even in a shared use place. The limitations of major trunk lines of the BART system means that commutes are usually two stages. First you have to get to a bus stop which could mean a walk of at least several blocks (think of someone in a wheelchair if that doesn’t seem too much to you). In California at least the weather is not going to be -23 while you wait or the stop to be buried by a berm of snow). Let’s say the timing is good, and you catch the bus after a 5 minute walk and a 10 minute wait. Then you have maybe 1/2 hour minimum to get to BART. Then if probably takes 1 hour to get from outlying Bay areas to downtown San Francisco. Then you have to walk some blocks to work, or maybe get another bus or cable car to get to your actual workplace. Call it another 1/2 hour. It is 5 p.m., repeat to go home. This is 15 minutes + 30 minutes + 60 minutes + 30 minutes: 2 hours and 15 minutes total ONE WAY. Both ways equals a value of at lest $30 plus for a minimum wage worker. But hey, they are poor so their time is not even worth minimum wage if they aren’t being PRODUCTIVE. This is BEFORE the paying cash money out for the cost of the busses and BART and maybe cable cars (not cheap, like $5 a ride I think years ago). Even with subsidized transit, and monthly all access passes, workers are spending their lives getting to and from work, paying for the privilege of working off the top (not deductible), and they still have to go grocery shopping, get to the doctor or dentist or vet, pick up kids from daycare or schools and so many things.

What this says to me is that higher density in downtowns with the increased congestion is not the answer despite the author’s embrace of that solution.

Hip named  districts has been a thing for too long now and alas our city has succumbed to the decades old trend (clearly we are not early adopters of anything). WTF does “Discovery Square” really mean? Just another kind of gerrymandering! These names our development plan has come up with are beyond lame and serve only to force fake arbitrary sections of town into some pretense of commonality. They would be better off naming them the blue, red, yellow etc. districts and then paint the curbs that color so you would know where you are! ha ha

Really, these “districts” are a pointless abstraction. No one is ever going to say, “Did you see the new restaurant in the Heart of the City?” They are going to say,  “Did you see the new restaurant on First Avenue and 2nd Street?” At least Historic Downtown means something including a general identifiable location. Does “Discovery” mean that no other district can have new tech start-ups?

The chapter continues covering other aspects like water supply and waste management and disaster prevention (levee breakage in New Orleans, Hurricane Sandy). I remember many floods over the years in my local area. The river that runs through our town has been modified for flood prevention without regard to attractiveness, recreation, or entertainment possibilities. The new development might do something with the concrete walls channeling it through parts of town, but I have to look at the plans some more.

I don’t recall seeing anything that was dramatically green, which is what he discusses at the end of the chapter about New York’s plans. I also lived in New York about 10 years, back in the day, and have been back once or twice to see the differences, but not in the last 16, no make that 17 years or so. Wow. That long already?!

Green roofs were a thing a long time ago but I do not think there are any plans for such things on any new buildings proposed in the redevelopment plans. The outlying “circle drive” (another dead trend that elevates strip malls to a new level of vomit inducing appearance) sections don’t have any parks or green berms or many trees on my section. The other sections have retained the non urban nice green rural road with natural trees and no strip mall junk buildings. Why my side got decimated and is growing even more so is a mystery I have yet to research.


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