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The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth Paperback – 15 Dec 2006
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"An impressive work: commanding, insistent and meticulously researched." -The New York Times Book Review"Hugely provocative." -The Washington Post"A major work. . . . This kind of reasoned analysis is precisely what is necessary to put the United States back on the right track." -Foreign Affairs"Absorbing. . . . A thorough, historically detailed, accessible exploration." -The Economist"Friedman has scored a dead-center hit on the critical question: Why do we value economic growth? . . . Provide[s] a new framework and language for discussing economic growth, one that's useful for economists, politicians, and business leaders alike." -BusinessWeek"One extreme belief about economic growth is that it is self-evidently its own reward. The opposite extreme is the belief that economic growth is wasteful and dehumanizing. Along comes Ben Friedman to argue calmly, thoroughly and convincingly that rising incomes create an environment favorable to democracy, tolerance and solidarity, while stagnation does the reverse. But government policy matters for the actual outcome, and understanding matters for the choice of policy. This is a strong case, and Friedman lays it out with a wealth of historical and international detail."-Robert Solow"Benjamin Friedman goes beyond and above the usual run of economic discussion. He is concerned not only with how the economy functions but also with how it serves the common good. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth will stand as a major contribution to social well-being. It could not be more timely and welcome."-John Kenneth Galbraith, author of The Affluent Society "Friedman's book renews the proud tradition of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. He provides a stunning, comprehensive view of economic growth and proposes a positive outlook of its moral consequences. Debatable, yes, but an argument one has to confront in assessing public policy toward globalization and aid to developing countries."-Daniel Bell, author of The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism "The most important studies of economic growth and development are those that go beyond the numbers and illuminate performance and its consequences by moral concerns and goals. This wider range is what gives the works of such giants as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill their timeless relevance; and it is what promises to give this new study by Benjamin Friedman its transcendental importance. He conveys this larger wisdom with a clarity and intellectual passion that make this book a nascent classic, a 'must read.' "-David S. Landes, author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations "This book reminds us all of a truly important moral issue-the likely effects of economic growth or stagnation on society's tolerance, its fairness, and its democratic values. Ben Friedman establishes yet again why he is one of America's best economists." -Peter G. Peterson, chairman, Council on Foreign Relations"Reading this book is an experience in discovering meaning in our economic lives. Friedman insightfully connects our sense of moral purpose with the business activities that figure so largely in our everyday endeavors. A fascinating view of world history."-Robert J. Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance"This powerful book achieves the rare feat of transforming economics into a social science. Friedman's argument is both convincing and fascinating to read."-Peter L. Bernstein, author of Against the Gods "Friedman demonstrates how economic growth promotes the social, political, and economic well-being of a citizenry, and he refutes the popular myth that economic growth is inconsistent with the development of human liberty and dignity. Fascinating and well documented."-James J. Heckman, University of Chicago,2000 Nobel Laureate in Economics"This splendid book, written on a broad canvas that transcends parochial American concerns, is an important work that draws on insights from history and economics to argue that growth is a friend, not a foe, of prosperity and much else. It is a tour de force." -Jagdish Bhagwati, author of In Defense of Globalization
About the Author
Benjamin M. Friedman is the William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy and former chairman of the department of economics at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1972. The author of several scholarly works; his first trade book, Day of Reckoning: The Consequences of American Economic Policy Under Reagan and After, was awarded the George S. Eccles Prize, awarded annually by Columbia University for excellence in writing about economics. A former investment banker, he has consulted for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and individual Federal Reserve banks. He has worked with the National Bureau of Economic Research, the National Science Foundation Subcommittee on Economics, and the Congressional Budget Office. Professor Friedman has written for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Review of Books.
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It is an interesting correlation between the rise of hate groups and the poor treatment of minorities and periods of economic stagnation, and the conclusion makes sense in the context that our society is heavily competition-motivated, and that in times of economic stress people might look for scapegoats or turn against each other. I'm not certain if it is actual causation or merely correlation, and I don't think I ended up convinced of its causation: however despite that it was still a very interesting look into how an Economist would view history. Worth a read.
Benjamin Freidman has taken a more positivist to the same issue. In doing so he asks, "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" Does economic growth in a capitalist setting require democracy and civil liberties or visa versa? Friedman's study looks back not only over all to this question in modern economic history. But, he also takes specific case studies from the United States, Germany, France and others to see the over all trends of the problem.
From this he develops a matrix on the issue. In times of growth political rights tend to expand. In times of stagnation they tend to contract. What is interesting his not how Friedman arrives at this basic framework, but his look into the exceptions of this common sense rule. Why in the 1930s was the political openness of the New Deal accepted, but the recent economic stagnation in France caused the rise of the right-wing Le Pen party?
Friedman is one of the foremost experts on the political economy. He has held a seat at Harvard since 1972. Yet, in this work for public consumption his writing is more along the lines of an historian. He does not delve too far into the economics or the political science of the issue, which many academics tend to - even for the lay reader. Instead, he sees to it that the main ideas are gotten across.
His prescriptions are simple. Maintain economic growth and we can maintain political and civil liberties. While Amartya Sen may find a problem with placing the chicken before the egg, after this work one must understand that economic stagnation helps noone.
In the years following World War II, Friedman saw inequality widening for four consecutive decades and, “Especially at the very top of the scale—not just the top 1 percent, but even more so the top 0.01 percent— the increases in income and wealth have been enormous.” The disparities continue even now and often widen. We see examples of generosity on the part of some among the very top one percent generously sharing their wealth, models of change that would make dramatic differences among those who presently have little. It would not be too much to say that the real measure of success in a democratic society is not just how well it succeeds in generating capital sufficient for the welfare of its people, but whether it also builds institutions, shared capabilities and the common will and determination to share the wealth. The more common and widespread inclination among those at the top, in positions of power and wealth, is the clear determination to follow the pattern of their predecessors in earlier generations to strengthen and extend their hold."
This is a book that should be required reading for members of Congress and Supreme Court Justices.
Richard Thayer, PhD
Founder & President, Telecommunications & Technologies International