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Mass Flourishing

Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Mass Flourishing
    Book Description:

    In this book, Nobel Prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps draws on a lifetime of thinking to make a sweeping new argument about what makes nations prosper--and why the sources of that prosperity are under threat today. Why did prosperity explode in some nations between the 1820s and 1960s, creating not just unprecedented material wealth but "flourishing"--meaningful work, self-expression, and personal growth for more people than ever before? Phelps makes the case that the wellspring of this flourishing was modern values such as the desire to create, explore, and meet challenges. These values fueled the grassroots dynamism that was necessary for widespread, indigenous innovation. Most innovation wasn't driven by a few isolated visionaries like Henry Ford; rather, it was driven by millions of people empowered to think of, develop, and market innumerable new products and processes, and improvements to existing ones. Mass flourishing--a combination of material well-being and the "good life" in a broader sense--was created by this mass innovation.

    Yet indigenous innovation and flourishing weakened decades ago. In America, evidence indicates that innovation and job satisfaction have decreased since the late 1960s, while postwar Europe has never recaptured its former dynamism. The reason, Phelps argues, is that the modern values underlying the modern economy are under threat by a resurgence of traditional, corporatist values that put the community and state over the individual. The ultimate fate of modern values is now the most pressing question for the West: will Western nations recommit themselves to modernity, grassroots dynamism, indigenous innovation, and widespread personal fulfillment, or will we go on with a narrowed innovation that limits flourishing to a few?

    A book of immense practical and intellectual importance, Mass Flourishing is essential reading for anyone who cares about the sources of prosperity and the future of the West.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4829-4
    Subjects: Economics, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: Advent of the Modern Economies
    (pp. 1-16)

    Over most of human existence, the actors in a society’s economy seldom did anything that expanded what may be called their economic knowledge—knowledge of how to produce and what to produce. Even in the early economies of Western Europe, departures from past practice that might have led to new knowledge and thus to new practice, or innovation, were uncommon. Ancient Greece and Rome made some innovations—the water mill and bronze casting, for example. Yet it is the dearth of innovation in the “ancient economy,” especially over the eight centuries after Aristotle, that is striking. The Renaissance made pivotal...

  2. PART ONE The Experience of the Modern Economy

    • CHAPTER ONE How the Modern Economies Got Their Dynamism
      (pp. 19-40)

      Part One sees the first modern economies as lying at the core of the modern societies that arose in the West early in the 19th century. Their unprecedented dynamism was mirrored by dynamism in other realms of society as well. The narrative describes how these economies changed not only living and working standards but also the very character of life: dynamism manifests itself in manifold ways. The narrative goes on to examine how and why these history-making economies came about.

      A modern economy, as that term is used here, means not a present-day economy but rather an economy with a...

    • CHAPTER TWO Material Effects of the Modern Economies
      (pp. 41-54)

      Though we identify the kind of economy a nation has by its structure, as in the previous chapter, its real meaning is in its consequences. The sustained growth of productivity that the arrival of the modern economy brought to several nations as early as the 19th century was a momentous consequence. Karl Marx, though he opposed the developing system he saw around him, did not think that this sustained growth was unimportant. In 1848, even before the modern economies were running at top speed, Marx, with productivity partly in mind, noted the “progressiveness” of the modern economies before his eyes.¹...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Experience of Modern Life
      (pp. 55-76)

      With the modern economies came something radically new—modern life. The results in consumption, leisure, and longevity pointed to in the previous chapter were very large, a few of them large enough to make a difference for what people were able to do. With a longer life in prospect, people might be willing to prepare for careers requiring a larger investment. However, these material gains, although they changed the standard of living (and of working), did not change radically the way of life—did not change the “way we were.” Of those material gains, perhaps the one that comes closest...

    • CHAPTER FOUR How Modern Economies Formed
      (pp. 77-110)

      The emergence by the mid-19th century of a pervasively modern economy in much of the West altered human experience by enlisting creativity, inviting experimentation, and fostering innovation. It thereby earned its place as a watershed development in world history. One would think, then, that historians would have taken up the big questions of its origin: What was required for economic modernity and how were the requirements met? What was present here and not there? Present then and not before?

      General historians did not address the questions. What they wrote under “the rise of the West” are chronicles of the rise...

  3. PART TWO Against the Modern Economy

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Lure of Socialism
      (pp. 113-134)

      The economic institutions and the social norms, or economic culture, on which the world’s first modern economies operated were not chosen by the people—by their democratic assemblies or judicial bodies. Legislatures and courts occasionally had to decide for or against this or that piece of the system, but there was never a public choice between one system and another.

      Britain and America were the nearest to exceptions. By 1800, so many people had left the traditional economy for a commercial and cosmopolitan life and so many of them were engaged and rewarded in what they were doing that both...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Third Way: Corporatism Right and Left
      (pp. 135-169)

      Wherever the modern economy arrived, with its institutions and culture, there were preexisting social customs and social values going back centuries. Over the latter half of the 19th century, extensive modernization in parts of continental Europe, including France and Germany, rode roughshod over traditional ways of life. Though socialists went on with their critique of capitalism—the modern capitalist economies not excepted—other social critics arose to deplore other things about the modern economy. By the mid-1920s, these critics had formulated the standard 20th-century indictment of the modern economy. While the unemployment and wages that socialists complained of in capitalism...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Weighing the Rivals on Their Terms
      (pp. 170-192)

      How well have the challengers to modern capitalism—corporatism and socialism—done? As the above narrative suggests, Bismarck’s Germany, which had elements of corporatism, did well, though whether much of that success was owed to corporatism would be hard to say. The corporatist economies of Mussolini and Hitler rebounded from national crises no better than the American and British economies did. But what about the new corporatism or the new socialism of the mid-1960s to the present? We are now poised to study their consequences and influences over the past half century.

      This chapter will explore whether the neo-corporatist and...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Satisfaction of Nations
      (pp. 193-216)

      The previous chapter, weighing the rivals on their own materialist terms, sought the effects of corporatism (and socialism) on the material economy—mainly on employment and productivity. Yet there is a nonmaterial dimension in a modern economy, as in modern life in general. Much of what is most valued about participating in a relatively modern economy is the challenge and experience it usually offers, and the intuitions and ideas it excites, rather than the material goods and services produced. As emphasized from the start, the modern economy is a vast imaginarium, a virtual laboratory in which to dream up and...

  4. PART THREE Decay and Refounding

    • CHAPTER NINE Markers of Post-1960s Decline
      (pp. 219-236)

      The American economy is now quite different from the modern economy that was so scintillating over most of the 19th and 20th centuries. The central dimensions of performance—job satisfaction, unemployment, and relative productivity—make this very clear. Data show deterioration setting in on all three fronts as early as the mid-1970s, with only a temporary uptick in job satisfaction in the last giddy years of the internet boom. A similar deterioration came sooner or later to the rest of the West: to Germany in the 1980s and to both Italy and France in the late 1990s. These nations, so...

    • CHAPTER TEN Understanding the Post-1960s Decline
      (pp. 237-267)

      In one of the stories told about the American decline, the postwar decades had been a golden age: The federal government supplied social security to working people—old age and disability insurance—while state governments supplied unemployment compensation. Regulations provided safety for workers and consumers and protected people’s savings from bank failure and their investments from fraud. Big, diversified corporations provided de facto tenure for employees, giving them more reason to remain loyal. Unions fought against layoffs and for seniority rights. In addition to widespread economic security, unemployment was low and stable, and growth was fine.

      Then, in this narrative,...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Good Life: Aristotle and the Moderns
      (pp. 268-288)

      Champions of corporatism and the new corporatism have all thought in materialist terms—in terms of inefficiencies in production, wasteful unemployment, and costly fluctuations. Conventional champions of capitalism did too. The corporatists argued that the corporatist system was superior in these terms to the modern-capitalist system. They said the system would generally deliver higher productivity, less waste from unemployment, and, thanks to job protection, greater stability in individuals’ wealth, wages, and employment. In fact, the performances in these terms of the relatively well-functioning corporatist economies has proved at best roughly comparable to that of the relatively well-functioning modern capitalist economies...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE The Good and the Just
      (pp. 289-309)

      The classic defenders of capitalism from mercantile days onward have sought an economy having fewer “interferences” with what they see to be the good in capitalism—the “freedoms” and the “growth”—without a thought for what a just economy is. In the premise of some of these classic defenders, each participant receives in pay the value of his or her contribution to national product, exactly as if each worked in isolation, so it is difficult if not impossible to see what moral claim one sort of participant might have to the pay of other sorts. But this premise is untenable....

  5. EPILOGUE: Regaining the Modern
    (pp. 310-324)

    In the West there is a sense that the “glorious history of desire and dreams” has wound down. Most Western economies have been nearly stagnant—America since the mid-1970s and much of Western Europe since the late 1990s. While advances in information and communications, largely made in America, have given many the impression that such advances are endemic, labor productivity in the economy as a whole plodded from 1972 until the rollout of the internet began in 1996 and plodded again after the rollout was over in 2004. Wide damage has resulted. Employee compensation has barely grown. The employment rate...

    (pp. 325-336)