A Better World is Possible: What needs to be done and how we can make it happen, by Bruce Nixon

O Books, 2011, 1-84694-514-4, pbk, 396 pp, £14.99

This really is a book about everything: the financial crisis, climate change, peak oil, ecosystem destruction, poverty, and war: and it is about solutions to everything, with the solutions organised in layers: first, principles, then the required paradigm shifts, and then the detail. For instance, in relation to climate change: the solution is ‘greening the world’; basic principles are, for instance, ‘minimise use of non-renewable resources …’; one of the paradigm shifts required is ‘from linear to cyclical production processes’; and that paradigm shift is then spelt out: ‘Creating an economy founded on solar and nature’s energy and the principle of recycling’. Perhaps the best way to describe the book is as an instruction manual for the planet.

In relation to the economy, Nixon calls for money to be created only by national reserve banks as agents of the state, and not by commercial banks; and he calls for a Citizen’s Income to be paid for by a Land Value Tax. Nixon’s two main reasons for calling for Citizen’s Income are that it would ‘reduce the need to chase economic growth for the purpose of income distribution’ and that it would ‘introduce the culture of sharing, recognising that everyone has a right to a minimum share in wealth created through the use of skills and technologies that are our common heritage’ (p.142).

Chapters follow on community democracy, food sovereignty, sustainable cities, an end to war, and (again) climate change. A final chapter is titled ‘What we need to do’, by which Nixon means both ‘What the whole of humanity needs to do’ (for instance, ‘fair taxation, land value tax and citizen’s income’ (p.205)) and ‘What you can do’ (for instance, ‘organise … massive education and awareness raising’ (p.206)).

This book is both exhaustive and exhausting, and properly so. Some massive interconnected problems face the human race, and to bring so many of them together in a single book makes clear the size of the task and the fact that change is required at every level: global, nation state, local community, and individual. The size of the task suggests that success might be out of reach, and that we should resign ourselves to runaway climate change, resources wars, and poverty; but that is not where the book ends up. Nixon is a fan of Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it’ (quoted on p.209).

As the book suggests, just one element of the diverse and complex changes required of us is a Citizen’s Income. This is one element of Nixon’s massive wish-list that is achievable in the medium term and that could be implemented without requiring additional public expenditure. It could be an early win in the long process of creating a ‘better world’. Until it happens our task remains ‘education and awareness raising’ (p.206), and it is most important that we do it.