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Customer Review

on January 24, 2001
Jay traces key episodes in homo sapiens sapiens creation of wealth, from hunter and gatherer to present times. He sees mankind as basically curious, ingenious and competitive, although political constraints on these characteristics had been frequent. Given half a chance, humans are basically disposed to better their situation if they can. Intriguing is his "waltz motif," that is, a one, two, three sequence has been frequent throughout. When wealth is increased by knowledge or technique improvement so more can be fed or living standards can rise, then, step two, predators immediately gather externally or free riders look for a free lunch internally, leading to step three, a social-political solution that saves the wealth or the new wealth collapses.
So government is needed; no rules or safety; no lasting wealth. However, for an economy to survive, you need the four "i's": information, innovation, investment and incentives. If the government prevents free flow of information about preferences and true costs, or stifles innovation, or ties up investment, or throttles incentives, its economic boom will go bust. So government can create a climate supporting the four i's, but needs to do so without imposing on itself insupportable burdens on its fallible shoulders. Jay points out the global economy has not buoyed all ships, and even in developed countries that are thriving, the poor in these countries are doing worse as they are forced to compete in a worldwide labor market.
Is there reason for optimism that the world can continue its economic growth? Jay has a chilling comment. For the rich, (us?), to go on their merry way, the rich (we?) will have to provide "...effective political machinery for obtaining the assent and compliance of billions of people to the rules of the game under which they are expected to play and that, however successful, will leave many of them poor and some of them destitute" (P. 310). Otherwise the waltz, 1,2,3, could lead to 3 of a colossal, global failure.
The book courageously sloshes through immense economic content, and it is well worth the effort. If you want a better idea of how wealth is created and what supports its continuance, this is a book for you.
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