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From the author of Day of Reckoning, the acclaimed critique of Ronald Reagan’s economic policy (“Every citizen should read it,” said The New York Times): a persuasive, wide-ranging argument that broadly distributed economic growth provides benefits far beyond the material, creating and strengthening democratic institutions, establishing political stability, fostering tolerance, and enhancing opportunity.
“Are we right,” Benjamin M. Friedman asks, “to care so much about economic growth as we clearly do?” To answer, Friedman reaches beyond economics. He examines the political and social histories of the large Western democracies—particularly of the United States since the Civil War—distinguishing times of generally rising living standards from those of pervasive stagnation to illustrate how rising incomes render a society more open and democratic. He shows, too, how our attitudes toward economic growth and its consequences have roots in the thinking of prior centuries, especially the Enlightenment, and also include significant strands of religious influence.
Friedman also delineates the role of economic growth in determining which developing nations extend the broadest freedoms to their citizenry. He makes clear that growth, rather than just the level of living standards, is key to effecting political and social liberalization in the third world. But he also warns that the democratic values of countries even as wealthy as our own are at risk whenever incomes stagnate for extended periods. Merely being rich is no protection against a society’s retreat into rigidity and intolerance once enough of its citizens lose the sense that they are getting ahead.
Finally, Friedman shows us why, if America is to strengthen democratic institutions around the world as a bulwark against terrorism and social unrest, we must aggressively pursue growth at home and promote worldwide economic expansion beyond what purely market-driven forces would create. And for the United States, he offers concrete suggestions for policy steps to achieve those objectives.
A major contribution to the ongoing debate on the effects of economic growth and globalization.
“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, 1987 Nobel Laureate in Economics
“This wise book shows that economists have thought much too narrowly about economic growth. They have never asked, or answered, the fundamental question: Why do we want it? Benjamin Friedman traces through the history of the growth of morals and gives the surprising answer that social growth is as important as technological growth. This great piece of social scholarship should be read by every social scientist.” — George Akerlof, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics
“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
“A major work. . . . An important antidote to the populist antigrowth movement and also to those who say that the free market is all we need. It joins a growing chorus calling for a change in the direction of U.S. economic policy— toward achieving growth that is stronger and more sustainable. Whether or not you agree with Friedman’s particular policy prescriptions, this much is clear: this kind of reasoned analysis is precisely what is necessary to put the United States back on the right track.” —Joseph E. Stiglitz (2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics), Foreign Affairs
“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