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Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change Hardcover – August 25, 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Winner of the 2014 Gold Medal in Economics, Axiom Business Book Awards

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

One of Bloomberg Businessweek's Best Books of 2014, chosen by chosen by Bjorn Wahlroos

One of Financial Times (FT.com) Best Economics Books of 2013

A "Best Business Book of the Year for 2013" selected on LinkedIn by Matthew Bishop, Economics Editor of The Economist

"The book eloquently discusses the culture of innovation, which can refer to both an entrepreneurial mind-set and the cultural achievements during an age of change. . . . The dismal science becomes a little brighter when Mr. Phelps draws the connections between the economic ferment of the industrial age and the art of Beethoven, Verdi and Rodin."--Edward Glaeser, Wall Street Journal

"[I]nquiring readers, not just academics and social scientists, will enjoy the vast learning in Phelps's sophisticated, sometimes sardonic, look at homo economicus."--Publishers Weekly

"Phelps, a Nobel laureate in economics, defies categorisation. In this extraordinary book--part history, part economics and part philosophy--he proclaims individual enterprise as the defining characteristic of modernity. But he fears this dynamism is lost. One does not have to agree to recognise that Phelps has addressed some of the big questions about our future."--Martin Wolf, Financial Times

"Phelps has written a book that transcends the materialist walls of standard economics. . . . It is a book J.M. Keynes would have admired."--Paul DeRosa, American Interest

"[F]ascinating, versatile and profound."--Felix Martin, New Statesman

"A great book that will annoy big business and absolutely infuriate the left. I loved it."--Diana Hunter, Financial World

"Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps' latest book should be read by those seeking a broader context to the challenges currently facing the global economies. In his wide-ranging and insightful book, Professor Phelps draws on historical trends and cultural shifts to present his hypothesis that a lack of dynamism in modern economies lies at the root of the current malaise. . . . Indeed, this remarkable book addresses the central economic question of why some economies thrive while others languish."--Declan Jordan, London School of Economics Review of Books

"Few leading economists . . . have tried to develop Marx's contention that there is an ineluctable relationship between human psychology and market participation. This relationship is what Phelps describes as human 'flourishing.'"--Andrew Godley, International Journal of the Economics of Business

"Phelps has produced an insightful work that bridges gaps among economics, sociology, and philosophy to identify countries that have the capabilities to prosper and flourish. This book is an essential read for individuals interested in better assessing countries' economies and competitive advantages."--Library Journal

"The author ranges extremely widely and any student of any age will gain something from it, irrespective of political views."--Samuel Brittan, Financial Times

"Phelps's book deserves credit for showing that the strength of an economy doesn't depend on small differences in the tax rate, or the tactics of a country's central bank. Phelps rightly points out that economic dynamism depends on much deeper issues like a culture's affinity for risk taking and respect for individual achievement. And he wields convincing statistics that suggest actors in our political economy, from our government, to corporations, to workers, have to some extent lost their reverence for these values."--Chris Matthews, Time.com Money & Business

"I . . . find his values-driven view of national prosperity fascinating--and applicable to corporate and personal prosperity. If innovation and the prosperity it yields stem from the values to which we subscribe as individuals, organizations, and nations, it stands to reason that we should be paying a great deal of attention to the particular values we adopt and espouse."--Theodore Kinni, Strategy-Business.com

"[E]xciting."--William Watson, National Post

"[W]ide-ranging. . . . Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change, a distillation of years of research and thought about the changes in values and attitudes that once unleashed wide-scale creativity and risk-taking and which are under severe threat today."--Brian Milner, Globe & Mail

"The book is wide-ranging and highly eclectic: in just two pages (pp. 280-281) you'll find references to Cervantes, Shakespeare, Hume, Voltaire, Jefferson, Keats, William Earnest Henley, William James, Walt Whitman, Abraham Maslow, Rawls, Nietzsche, and Lady Gaga! . . . Anyone interested in the synthesis of free markets and social justice will find this eminent thinker's distinctive version of that synthesis both illuminating and thought-provoking."--Brink Lindsey, Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog

"Phelps has given us a clear warning of the dangers of corporatism. I hope that more people hear and heed the warning."--Arnold Kling, Econlog

"[I]t wasn't until today that I started looking at Mass Flourishing by Edmund Phelps, about the central role of innovation in modern growth and, more, in the enabling of the good life. Obviously I should have read it last week. It looks right on theme, and it is pleasing to pick up an economics book that has a chapter on Aristotle."--Enlightened Economist

"One does not have to agree to recognise that Phelps has addressed some of the big questions about our future."--Financial Times

"Mass Flourishing offers a brilliant dissection of the origins, causes, and eventual decline of modern capitalism--an inclusive economy characterized by the complex unfettered interactions among diverse indigenous innovators, entrepreneurs, financiers, and consumers. . . . This book should be accessible to general readers and is especially stimulating for graduate students and those interested in economics, sociology, history, political science, and psychology."--Choice

"It applies many important aspects of Virginia political economy, making a contribution to understanding not only the positive, but also the normative implications of the rules of the game."--Rosolino Candela, Public Choice

"It challenges many of our prized assumptions about what makes economies succeed."--David P Goldman, Standpoint

"This is a recommended read, not only because it was written by Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel Laureate in economics, but for encouraging reflection on fundamental issues related to modern life and the contemporary interpretation of Aristotle's 'the good life'. The author is such an experienced and iconic guide that it makes the journey through the subjects covered in the book an excellent read for anyone."--Jacek Klich, Central Banking Journal

"It is a marvelous book that deserves to be read by everyone, but particularly those entrusted with the design of the European future."--Bjorn Wahlroos, Bloomberg Businessweek

"Phelps masterfully utilizes aggregate data on cross-comparative national economic productivity and adeptly complements it with international individual employee satisfaction survey results give the reader a rich empirical tapestry that support his theme."--Thomas A. Hemphill, Cato Journal

From the Back Cover

"Anyone who finds today's economic debates too small-minded for the immense challenges we face should be drawn to this important work. Only Edmund Phelps would place ultimate blame for the Great Recession on the loss of the right concept of the good life. Phelps has been ahead of his time as an economic thinker for a half century. This may be his deepest, boldest, and most important work."--Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University

"Few scholars have had the capacity to place the concept of the 'good life' in the context of both philosophical and economic thought. That is what Edmund Phelps has done in his masterly analysis of what he terms a 'modern economy,' once exemplified by Americans' capacity to innovate, to challenge, to dream--and to grow. But he warns that this model needs to be refreshed and changed to restore its potential."--Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve

"In this magisterial sweep of historical storytelling, Edmund Phelps draws upon his rich and deep cultural hinterland--from Robin Hood to Karl Marx to Friedrich Hayek--to explore why some countries develop dynamic economies driven by incessant innovation and inspiration while others still lag far behind. Economic history has rarely been more penetratingly understood and engagingly told."--Nicholas Wapshott, author of Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics

"This extraordinary, paradigm-shifting book provides fascinating and fresh insights into the relationship between economic systems, innovation, and creativity. Drawing from a dazzling array of historical and contemporary evidence, Edmund Phelps shows that misguided economic ideas have fractured societies and stifled well-being, and he provides a framework for going beyond the current predicament to create a better world. This book should be read by the widest possible audience."--Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford

"In this powerful book, Edmund Phelps disrupts lines of debate between right and left. He shows how human initiative and creativity hold the key to future economic prosperity and social progress, and argues that what is holding us back are not the demands of the needy, but rather the stranglehold of conservative attitudes and entrenched privileges, which have steadily narrowed the field for individual innovation and accomplishment."--Philip K. Howard, author of The Death of Common Sense

"This book is what Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations should have been about, if it were to have been an even more important book. Mass Flourishing contains much history, but it focuses more on what society should do today, and it provides a call to action."--Robert J. Shiller, author of Finance and the Good Society

"This book is very good indeed, drawing on a lifetime of thought and experience and a wide knowledge outside economics as well as, of course, in it. Phelps's argument about the relationship between personal flourishing, the dynamism of a society, and the innovative capacity of that society is well argued and clearly enunciated."--John Kay, author of Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (August 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691158983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691158983
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bartley J. Madden on August 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edmund Phelps has delivered a hugely important book destined to become a genuine classic and, for sure, a "must read" for anyone interested in why economies work and don't work. It contains unique insights about economic progress in the past and the public, private, and cultural changes needed to restore dynamism which is reflected in people at the grassroots level with the will and capacity to pursue the "good life" of working to develop and commercialize new ideas.

What particularly struck me is the enjoyable learning experience from reading how the author unpacks the core ideas of important thinkers, ranging from Aristotle to Schumpeter, in such a condensed and revealing way.

Phelps has a gift for open-minded inquiry of the past that applies hard-nosed, constructive skepticism to alternative explanations of the historical record and for plainly describing the logic of his own conclusions.

If your reaction to reading this book is similar to mine, you will want every politician, federal and state, to study pages 310 to 324 that explain how best to enable dynamism on a large scale. This is not about any political ideology ---- simply superb research and persuasive logic.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge and Change is an investigation of what drives inspiration and entrepreneurial spirit at the level of the individual. In this work, the author attempts to analyze what institutional arrangements foster the creative process and ability to capitalize on them for the benefits of society. The author looks at various economic regimes and focuses on socialism, corporatism and modern capitalism and compares their merits with respect to nurturing the population's creative talents. This work measures fairly objective functions like productivity growth but gets into the bold philosophical territory of happiness and what drives it in people. In particular work satisfaction and its impact on overall happiness as well as innovation.

The author starts by debunking aspects of classical economic growth theory in which economic growth is exogenously determined through accumulation scientific knowledge and its permeativity within the population at large. The author disputes the idea that scientific frontier knowledge drives innovation in terms of productivity growth and notes the inventors of the 19th century often had no scientific training. The author describes the importanice of local knowledge that citizens all accumulate and the ability of them to use that knowledge to drive innovation and take risks that is far more important in driving productivity than abstract knowledge at the academic frontier. The author focuses on the UK and the US in terms of best environments that fostered innovation.

The author moves on to describing the competing economic regimes of the 20th century.
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Harry Truman notoriously complained that "All my economists say, 'on the one hand ... on the other'" and demanded: "Give me a one-handed economist!". Well, here he is. The author presents a very passionate summation of views he has been developing over several decades as a prominent professor or economics at Columbia University, in the course of which career he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2006. In two sentences, his thesis is that 1) differences in economic values between societies largely account for differences in productivity and growth; and 2) societies need to cultivate and perpetuate attitudes of dynamism and innovation for the great mass of their society to flourish, hence the title "Mass Flourishing".

The book is a blend of economic analysis and lessons found in certain of the great books of Western civilization. The economic analysis appears more in the first part of the book, although not exclusively. He then develops a three-part taxonomy of present-day economic perspectives: a modern, dynamic, innovative one that he is passionate about, and two that have grown up in reaction to the uncertainty posed by the modern approach: the failed Marxist-socialist one; and what he calls the "corporatist" one, by which he means economies in which large organizations of labor, capital and government all have developed over time to stultify innovation and dynamism. The author demonstrates how Western European societies in particular have stagnated economically due to a lack of dynamism and innovation, and contrasts that, of course with the US's relatively greater successes in those respects.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people have suggested Mass Flourishing is an instant classic. While it possesses many of the trappings of a classic, I do not believe it deserves or will ever attain such a status. The author's observations of society are too counter-intuitive, his engagement with philosophical ideas too undeveloped, and his economic prescriptions too likely to result in mass-suffering, for the depth of his vision to hang together in such a way as to bear the test of time.

Phelps asserts that economists have tended to argue this or that policy will bring growth, while ignoring the purpose of growth. For Phelps, economic development is integral to human development. The point of economic development is not simply to generate wealth, which might be exhausted in leisure. Rather the point is to generate the human capacity to innovate. According to Phelps, innovation is what gives life meaning. But he focuses on a specific kind of innovation, which capitalism inspires: the urge to take on new challenges, to solve new problems, to struggle, and ultimately to create. He refers to a life of such engagement as a flourishing life. And he argues that unrestrained capitalism inspires such experiences. Further, he argues that through work, humans can fully engage their minds in solving new problems as they arise in every area of a business and in so doing they generate wealth, which provides further opportunities for individuals to flourish. His arguments echo those of Schumpeter and libertarians, like Hayek and Von Mises. But he claims they have treated innovation as merely a means to an end, which for them is freedom. For Phelps, innovation and the capacities is brings forth is an end in and of itself. In this sense, his ideas are more close to those of Ayn Rand, whom he fails to reference.
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