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The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth Paperback – September 12, 2006
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Friedman's arguments are provocative but at times lack rigor. In his comparisons of various countries, he offers no objective data to measure their levels of social progress, relying instead on his own--sometimes selective--interpretation of historical events. He glosses over the fact that China, where the economy has grown sevenfold since 1978, has seen little political change in that time. He also acknowledges that the Great Depression--which brought Americans together to achieve great social and political progress--tends to disprove his theory. Friedman makes a good case that the economy sometimes influences social movements, but the jury is still out on exactly when and how that happens. --Alex Roslin --This text refers to the Digital edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Digital edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Friedmand writes that: "Economic growth - meaning a rising standard of living for a clear majority of citizens - more often than not fosters greater oppurtunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy." And conversely, when there is economic stagnation or decline the citizen's "moral character" tends to decline accordingly, there being less tolerance, less openess, and less generosity to the poor and the disadvantaged.
Using the United States as a case in point, Friedman argues that from 1953 to 1973 median family income doubled. As the economy grew and Americans prospered, society became more open and tolerant. During this period, segregation became unconstitutional, the right to vote was guaranteed, racial discrimination was banned, fair housing and equal employment opportunity legislation was enacted. These events made America a more just and equitable society. Then from 1973 to 1995, the average wage in today's dollars declined. The national mood toward progressive social programs began to sour. Indeed these programs were cited by some as being unduly burdensome and being the cause of slow wage growth. Nevertheless, in times of falling incomes, Americans naturally become more concerned with their share of the shrinking economic pie.Read more ›
The book's affirmative thesis is that (i) "[E]conomic growth brings not only higher private incomes but greater openness, tolerance and democracy" (@15), (ii) "Economic growth matters because it enables the majority of a society's population to feel better off compared to benchmarks that are still recent enough to be meaningful. But once growth stops ... it is only a question of time before habits adapt and the sense of well-being dissipates" (@83), and (iii) "[I]n a stagnant economy, where one person's gain is necessarily someone else's loss, people who get ahead are perceived not only as doing so at other peoples' expense but as directly disadvantaging others. ... Stagnant economies, therefore, do not breed support for economic mobility, or for openness of opportunity more generally" (@86). BF tries to prove this by showing that during periods of "stagnation", countries often see outbreaks of racism, fascism, etc., while during periods of growth, they often enact laws (or undergo changes in social mores) that extend civil liberties and social welfare benefits to wider groups of people (see charts @ 214, 243, 265, 294).
An abbreviated list of issues I had with this line of argument:
1. WHAT IS GROWTH?: You have to wait until p. 47 for BF to offer his definition of economic growth: "a sustained increase in per capita incomes and living standards"(@47). But is this median income? GDP per capita? Something else?Read more ›
While much of the evidence covered by Professor Friedman is drawn from the history of western economies, he argues that there is plenty of evidence available from developing economies as well. In that context, his book provides abundant illustrations suggesting that even if rising incomes do not solve all problems, they certainly help significantly improve the moral strength of societies, including their ability to open up to welfare improving reforms.
Consider ethnic disputes. When they often originate in a fight over limited resources, economic growth enables conflicting groups to compromise simply because they become less inclined to suspect that others are doing better at their expense. As long as people see their own income rising, they worry less about doing better than others. This creates an environment favorable to political and social advances. The "moral" gains achieved then further fuel the motivation to work towards growth collectively.
Friedman warns, however, that trying to go too fast on the moral front simply to get ahead on that dimension without delivering on the growth agenda can prove to be a major problem, or even be unsustainable.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Quality book in fine condition delivered in a timely way. Thanks.Published 14 months ago by thomas e.
Harvard professor Benjamin M. Friedman, in his 2005 work, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, discusses the profound impact of commercial and industrial developments on... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Richard Thayer
This book has opened my eyes to one explanation as to why things have happened as they have in our past and present as a nation. Read morePublished on November 12, 2012 by Reynolds
Professor Friedman seeks a more open, tolerant and democratic society. He observes stagnation or reversals in these areas across the last 40 years, which he attributes to the... Read morePublished on April 4, 2012 by Tom K.
This is an excellent and extensive statement of economic and morality issues involving living standards with studies of inequality and globalization. Read morePublished on March 12, 2012 by Gderf
Problem 1--Friedman's continual reference to things that he will cover at some point, maybe, if he gets around to it, using the phrase 'as we shall see' EVERY SINGLE TIME. Read morePublished on December 22, 2010 by Michael J. Chapman
The "liberal" apporach of this book ignores the human cost of policies implemented at the macroeconomic level. Read morePublished on October 16, 2010 by Oscar Cury
Reading Benjamin Friedman's "Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" brings up a sense of unease, the unease of reading a thesis that is at once original and commonplace. Read morePublished on December 20, 2009 by N. Tsafos