The Sustainable State

GIFT's Founder and CEO, Chandran Nair’s newest book: The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society was pubished by Berrett-Koehler on October 9th, 2018.

Drawing upon themes first explored in Consumptionomics: Asia's Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet, Chandran's latest book dives deeper into what the non-Western world will need to do to resolve the coming sustainability challenge.

About the Book

When it comes to sustainability, the developing world (unlike mature economies) faces a dilemma. Both advanced and developing economies need to become much more sustainable given the challenges of the 21st Century (e.g. peak population, climate change, increasingly scarce resources, and so on). However, the developing world has yet to achieve a basic standard of living for all its people. The development models available to them (based off a Western experience) all rely on the overuse of resources and over-consumption, but these options will no longer be appropriate in a more resource constrained world. When it comes to sustainable development, developing countries need to achieve both sustainability and development. But under current models, developing countries can only achieve either sustainability or development.

It is strong state governance, with its legitimacy, accountability and authority, that is the foundation upon which strong global and local governance is built, and it is the only viable pathway to sustainability for the developing world. What is necessary is a “sustaining state”: one which preserves public and common goods to ensure that all citizens receive the basic “rights of life” through the equal and fair access of resources.

A strong state is the best vehicle for governance if the developing world is to achieve a universal basic standard of living without dooming the planet. This strong state will have an active and consistent government presence in the economy to resolve the system-wide market failure that encourages overconsumption, and will directly act to provide basic needs to a wide population.

Chandran Nair has been discussing his views on the role of the state in sustainability at summits and in mainstream publications for several years.

Chandran has often written on the need to challenge traditional free-market approaches to sustainable development. A few recent examples are below:

Praise for The Sustainable State

“Chandran Nair asks difficult questions and offers bold, provocative answers. One may disagree with his answers but has to admire his willingness to tackle thorny problems. These pages open our eyes to some of the most urgent problems facing humanity. A must-read.”

Moisés Naím, Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and author of The End of Power

“Nair is saying it when others are shying away. Liberal democracies and capitalist markets have not helped mankind to achieve sustainable development. These are the rich countries of the world – the biggest of which don’t believe in too much regulation. In developing economies, competing thoughts have emerged that argue for the necessity of comprehensive state intervention. Nair gives us a fulsome narrative to consider this crucial debate that has finally dawned.”

Ms. Christine Loh, Former Under-Secretary for the Environment in Hong Kong (2012-17)

“Nair shows that more than ever, state capacity matters for sustainable prosperity, and this is precisely the Achilles’ heel of most of the developing world.”

Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound, The Difficulty of Being Good, and India Grows at Night

“First with Consumptionomics, now with The Sustainable State, Chandran Nair describes an alternative path and meaning of progress: governance, when good, is an essential antidote to irresponsible, injurious capitalism and individual license. This is a book for our times.”

Zoher Abdoolcarim, former Asia Editor, Time

“Much of our current understanding of the nature of the state and its role comes from Western experience, eg, Westphalia, Industrial Revolution, the Cold War, Internet. But this is not what government and good governance means to most people outside of the West. Chandran Nair’s ground-breaking book tries to explain from the non-Western perspective what governments can and must do for the global majority in an era of resource constraints.”

Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Investigation Commission


“A tough task awaits governments, convincing a skeptical public that simplicity is more rewarding than prosperity that destroys our world and home. Nair’s timely book is a valuable service towards persuading a cynical public.”


“Collectively, planet Earth needs to get behind the idea that the growth of the physical economy cannot continue forever, and must find different models to live by. Nair is right in saying that in order to survive, society must limit mass consumption and increase material efficiency and equity, while giving high priority to internalizing negative environmental externalities. It’s up to the next generation’s leaders to actualize the solutions. ”

The Asian Review of Books

“In his new book, The Sustainable State, think tank founder Chandran Nair argues that the state, democratic or otherwise, may be the only institution capable of leading an effort to deal with climate change.”

Andrew Sheng in the SCMP

“In his latest book, The Sustainable State, Nair has set himself an ambitious task – to redefine the contemporary state in terms of its responsibility to the environment, and ultimately, the survival of the species.”

Alex Lo in the SCMP

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