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Rewarding Work: How to Restore Participation and Self-Support to Free Enterprise, First Edition Hardcover – April 21, 1997

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Editorial Reviews


In the 1960s Mr. Phelps and Milton Friedman, working independently, were the first to postulate the idea of a natural rate of unemployment. Mr. Phelps's new work is in the same tradition of market ('neoclassical') economics. His argument for big subsidies to the low-paid is consistent not just with respect for the power of market forces but also, and more broadly, with a classical liberal view of the world. The idea is particularly striking because it shows how to reconcile a rigorously 'market-friendly' approach to policy with effective intervention by the state in pursuit of social goals...Deserves to be widely read and discussed. (The Economist)

The importance of Edmund Phelps's new book is that it offers a novel yet plausible solution to America's core economic problem, stagnant or declining wages of full-time, low-wage workers...[Phelps] calculates that the benefits to society from one's ability to support oneself and to exercise responsibility as a parent, spouse, community member and citizen make his program self-financed, thanks to the offsetting reduction in the costs of welfare, medical care, illegitimacy, crime and other social pathologies...Phelps's scheme can be compared to matching-grant gifts, a common practice among many companies that participate in matching employees' alumni gifts to their alma maters...As workfare schemes begin to impinge on the U.S. labor scene, Phelps should be taken seriously. He deserves much credit as an economist with the knowledge and perseverance to grapple head-on with these devils in the details. (Edward T. Chase The Nation)

This book is addressed explicitly to the general public, in the hope, Mr. Phelps states boldly on his very first page, that its ideas will win general acceptance and be considered for enactment into law...He takes the view that many Americans have been driven out of working life, and deprived of all the physical and psychological succor that work provides, simply because their wages are too low, especially when the amount they are able to earn is compared with the amount they can 'earn' in payments and kind via the welfare system by doing no work at all...Mr. Phelps makes his economic case with forensic clarity. (Peter David Wall Street Journal)

[William Julius] Wilson's findings [on the disappearance of work] underscore the importance of Edmund S. Phelps's book Rewarding Work. Phelps, an economist at Columbia University, argues against the idea that low-wage workers are unproductive and unreliable because of their culture or their lack of bourgeois morals. Instead, he suggests, the gap between low-wage work and middle-class work creates disincentives for the least-paid workers to obtain the education and job skills that would enhance the economy's overall productivity...'America has no clear and explicit social policy toward the rewards of work,' Phelps points out. (Alan Wolfe American Prospect)

The most serious book of public policy economics to be published this year. The beauty of Rewarding Work is, well, its beauty. It is a superby worked-out argument: clear, pithy, brief, and derived from first principles. (David Warsh Boston Globe)

Rewarding Work is a calm, carefully researched, politically balanced, always professional treatise with no hint of class warfare. (Edgar R. Fiedler Across the Board)

In this short, popular book Edmund Phelps proposes and defends the policy of providing wage subsidies to low-wage workers. The first half of the book provides a breezy account of wages since World War II... [the second half] explains Phelp's proposed wage subsidy and defends it against objections both from those disliking any such policy and those supporting other similar policies...Phelps is to be congratulated for turning his considerable talents to a vitally important problem. (Peter Temin Journal of Economic History)

A splendid book...The Chancellor has put forward the idea of a working family tax credit...The most direct assault is always the best. If the problem is low wages and inadequate incentives to work, the solution must be wage subsidies...[Phelps] offers a compelling argument for a tapered subsidy to low-wage employment. (Martin Wolf Financial Times)

Phelps doesn't like unions, would abolish tariffs, opposes the minimum wage, would dismantle the welfare state and believes deeply in the virtues of unfettered capitalism. But then something strange happens, and you hear the 64-year-old Columbia University professor urging radical intervention in the labor market. He proceeds to outline a plan that would require massive tax credits for businesses that employ low-wage workers...It turns out that he believes the only way for the welfare state to wither on the vine (and for tariffs to be eliminated once and for all) is for an idea such as his to be implemented. After reading his stimulating book, Rewarding Work, and interviewing him at some length, I've become a convert. (Gene Epstein Barrons)

Although it refers entirely to the USA, [Rewarding Work] is equally interesting for the European audience since an important remedy for the joblessness of less-qualified workers in Europe is claimed to be a wage structure which is more downward flexible. Moreover, the book is written in a fairly nontechnical manner so that it is suitable for a broad readership. (W. Franz Journal of Economics [UK])

Edmund Phelps has proposed a radical scheme to subsidize low-wage labour in the United States [Workers'] pay and employment prospects would be transformed...The modern welfare state is working very badly, and Mr. Phelps's scheme is intended in due course not to add to it, but to replace it. (Clive Crook Economist)

[Phelps's] plan, laid out in...Rewarding Work, has drawn rave notices from both conservatives and liberals, making it the most interesting idea in years...Something like [this] idea...may be the only way to achieve a lasting political consensus for the open markets and technical advances that, in the long run, benefit us all. (Matthew Miller Washington Post)


Edmund Phelps' ideas are always new, always interesting, and always worthy of serious study. Creating work for all may be our greatest social problem. Phelps' strategy deserves serious consideration and debate. (Lawrence Summers, Former Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 198 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (April 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674094956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674094956
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,653,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Edmund Phelps, born in 1933 in Evanston, spent his childhood in Chicago and, from age six, grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. He earned his B.A. from Amherst in 1955 and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1959. He is the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics and the Director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University. In 2010 he became Dean of the New Huadu Business School in Fuzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Zurich. He has written a dozen full-length books on growth, unemployment, slumps, innovation and job satisfaction.

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By ideaman7 on June 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
Although it has been a while since I read this (and there is now a newer version out), the idea outlined in this book is one of the best that I have ever encountered for both reducing unemployment and raising the wages of low income earners. His idea is for the government to create an incentive for companies to hire and employ lower wage workers while also providing an incentive for those same lower wage workers to work longer and harder at their jobs. He proposes to do this with an ingenious wage subsidy system. This is in contrast to our existing system of welfare that basically pays people NOT to work and minimum wages that REDUCE employment. A MUST read for any politician, economist, or citizen who actually votes.
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