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Mass Flourishing 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. This title makes the case that the wellspring of this flourishing was modern values such as the desire to create, explore, and meet challenges. Full description

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23 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Genuine Classic 21 août 2013
Par Bartley J. Madden - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
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.
11 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Investigation into what drives inspiration and the entrepreneurial spirit 24 septembre 2013
Par A. Menon - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
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. The three major economic regimes are socialism (as pioneered in russia), corporatism (as advocated in Italy and Germany) and modern capitalism (as blueprinted by the US and UK). The author discusses his views on economic philosophy throughout and believes that growth and innovation must be considered as separate. In particular economies replicating productivity increases elsewhere need not be innovative as technology can be transferred instead of innovated hence productivity growth at the efficient frontier is what is the true test of dynamic society. In that respect the author sees socialism and corporatism as failing obviously. There are some tail statistical cases which can be used as examples of the success of corporatism or socialism, but these are the mere statistical anomolies that are inevitably to show up when there is a distribution around a mean. The author begins to discuss the effect on hapiness of an economy's dynamism. They note through questionaires responses that job satisfaction drives life satisfaction and that modern capitalism creates a more satisfied population through their ability to have more self determination.

The author then discusses where we are today. He notes the decline in productivity growth in the 60s and goes through a history of social reformation through the US, UK and Europe. The author then discusses some philosophy about what goes into a good life, using Aristotle as a base. He discusses the idea of self worth and pursuit of knowledge and achieving purpose. Clearly there is a lot of subjective material that reinforces the idea that creative destruction determined from the grassroots level is preferable to a culture of countercyclical economic culture that retards the desire to innovate through diluted returns to risk takers. It does become clear where the authors foundational "axioms" come from that strongly determine why modern capitalism is argued to be superior.

This is a solid work on innovation and what is needed to foster it. Removing the incentives to the entrepreneur come with dire repurcussions to long run vitality and that is an important observation. Given how many US companies remain in the top 50 and how dominant they are in the top 10 (by market cap) is a reminder of the strength of US corporate dynamism and spirit. There are failings within the US system that are marginilizing the impact of potential innovation from the grassroots as more of the workforce is excluded from that process- these must be improved for the US to continue to innovate and be a world leader. This is a philosophical work with a strong message. There are aspects of this kind of thinking in the history of economic and philosophical thought and this is not entirely new. All in all it brings focus to what really drives human progress and that is continued human innovation which the author strongly reminds us- is not a given.
10 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Interesting History of Economic Development - 3 novembre 2013
Par Loyd E. Eskildson - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Mass flourishing, per Phelps, derives from broad involvement of people in the conception, development, and spread of new methods and products. Governments must reverse losses of prosperity through legislative and regulatory initiatives that boost innovation. His rationale is derived from the prosperity that arose in the 19th century Industrial Revolution, aided by the emancipation of women. Phelps also contends his interpretation is not the classic Schumpeterian focus on entrepreneurs jumping to obvious innovations suggested by scientists, rather driven by broader-based ideas from entrepreneurs and financiers. Traditional values - putting community and state over the individual, along with protection against unemployment, were so powerful that few modern economies made much headway in that manner.

Ancient Greece and Rome made some innovations - water mills, paved roads, bronze castings, and aqueducts, yet eight centuries after Aristotle brought only a dearth of innovation. The Renaissance then brought important discoveries in science and art, and brought riches to royalty. Yet, gains in overall economic knowledge was too meager to elevate the productivity and living standards of ordinary people. Those economies had not acquired institutions and attitudes that would enable and encourage attempts at innovation. Commerce did spread within each country and foreign trade also spread. By the 18th century, especially in Britain and Scotland, most people were producing goods for 'the market' rather than for their families. The heroic spirit, however, sought outlets in military ventures rather than big leaps in business.

Output/worker in England did not increase between 1500 and 1800, though population did increase enormously. Real wages in 1800 were higher than in 1300, but lower than 1200 - thus, it is safe to simply conclude England saw little wage progress from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment. Output/person then began a sustained climb in 1815, tripling, along with real wages, in less than a century. Phelps, however, contends that advances in science could not have been the driving force, given that some nations advanced much faster than others.

Nearly all the inventors were not trained scientists, nor were they even particularly well educated - Arkwright (water-powered spinning frame) was a wig-maker, Hargreaves (water-powered spinning frame) was a humble weaver, Stephenson (steam-powered locomotive) was virtually illiterate. Watt (steam engine), an engineer, was the exception. These inventions were born out of perceptions of business needs or a sense of what businesses and consumers would like to have - even in the instance of the steam engine, Boulton, Watts' partner, demanded that it be widely useful. Thus, those economies brought ordinary people to flourish.

While the growth rate of productivity in an economy is no indicator of its own level of innovation (copy-cats can do quite well), with few exceptions, economies with productivity levels at or near the top owe that position to a high level of innovation. There also needs to be sufficient agricultural prosperity to allow savings, population linkages and trade to provide markets justifying large-scale production.

Socialism and corporatism (a hybrid approach combining private ownership with heavy labor representation and some management by the public sector) are seen as enemies of the modern economy. Today, CEOs emphasizing the short run, a 'congressional-banking complex,' and mutual funds also with short-term focus and lacking specialized knowledge about individual corporations have brought our deterioration in productivity growth, job creation, and business births. An explosion of regulations (eg. U.S. government suit against Boeing for opening a plant in a 'right-to-work state), grants (the Human Genome project?), loans, guarantees, taxes, deductions, carve-outs, and patent extensions now mainly serve vested interests and political clients.

This is all interesting, but ignores six major conflicting facts: 1)'Socialism with Chinese characteristics' has been beating American enterprises to a pulp for the last two decades. 2)It is hard for American innovation to widely benefit the economy when so many of its fruits are simply given to Mexico, China, and other nations to mass produce and refine - think Apple, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, etc. 3)A further problem with outsourcing production from the U.S. is that the reduced involvement of skilled Americans makes innovation less likely. 4)U.S. government has played an important contributory role in further innovation - eg. funding the human genome project, development of the Internet, advances in military hardware, our interstate highways, drug company research, etc. 5)Inept and insufficient regulation was the primary factor that brought us the recent Great Recession, as well as allowing health care providers to create the world's most expensive health care system, by far, while largely ignoring about 15% of the population and providing often poor care to everyone. 6)Tax reductions in the Bush administration brought massive deficits, further boosted by Great Recession - also during that administration.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A One-Handed Economist Gives A Passionate Summation of his Work 10 février 2014
Par MT57 - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
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.

After laying out the failings of the alternative models, he seeks to develop an intellectual defense of the "modern" economy as "good and just" (I note he conspicuously tries to avoid using the word "capitalism" to define such an economy; I am not sure why). Columbia University where the author has taught most of his career is famous for its "core curriculum" in which undergraduates spend several semesters reading from the canon of Western civilization, in both the humanities, in political and social philosophy, and art and music. I can imagine Professor Phelps must have taught some of those courses at times as the book is steeped in references to many of those works. Just in the A-C portion of the index, I see references to Aristotle, Austen, Bach, Balanchine, Balzac, Leonard Bernstein, Lord Byron, William Blake, the Brontes, Cellini, Cervantes, Cezanne and Voltaire's Candide. Historians of political thought like Toynbee, Polanyi, Popper and Spengler are referenced. From the realm of economics, the thought of Adam Smith, of course, Hayek, Schumpeter and Marx are discussed, as are more modern figures like Gary Becker, Jared Diamond, Robert Gordon, Walt Rostow, Amartaya Sen and Luigi Zingales. For some reason, he does not mention Douglas North, although his focus on institutions and values is very much in the same camp as North.

But the greatest intellectual link Phelps establishes is to the work of John Rawls, with whom he apparently shared an appointment or grant at Berkeley back in the late 60's when Rawls was writing "A Theory of Justice". The last third of the book is an attempt to place the author's vision of the market economy in the context of Rawls' philosophy of "justice as fairness". I have always been a skeptic of "A Theory of Justice" which, in my view, depends for its foundation on a series of "make-believe" propositions that I reject as a proud member of the "reality-based community". Phelps focuses more on the later restatement of Rawls' philosophy, Justice as Fairness, which is meaningfully different from the earlier work.
Phelps is a proponent of some kind of wage subsidy being extended to employers of lower-paid workers and argues this is consistent with Rawls' redistributive principles. He draws out of Rawls an under-recognized endorsement of the market economy and of economic growth and efficiency. As well, he emphasizes Rawls' very insightful and timely dictum that people who want "to surf at Malibu all day", and thereby drop out of the collective effort to make the economy as large as possible have no just claim to receive any redistribution of the fruits of the economy.

Of course, that brings up, or ought to, the role of the welfare state in relation to the loss of dynamism / stagnation of modern Western economies . Most unfortunately, Phelps's passion seems to abandon him and he dodges the topic altogether, which is a glaring flaw in his theorizing. What does he believe about, for example, Social Security which draws people out of the labor force, albeit people who may be less likely to innovate and take risks than new entrants? When President Obama asserts that such programs "make us free" to pursue economic growth, as he did in his second inaugural, that kind of claim deserves to be examined, but is not. When CBO estimates that the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act will induce the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time equivalents to drop out of the workforce, although it came after the book was published, what would an advocate of greater dynamism say? Phelps should have spoken to the welfare state directly. I guess that is how he avoids being a two-handed economist.

Additionally, his prescriptions for increasing dynamism are extremely vague and ivory tower-y and in the case of his call for states to fund venture capital banks, absurdly at odds with his prior criticism of government - business "corporatism" and apparently blind to the soft corruption and value dissipation that such a politiciz-able honeypot would be prone to engender (see Solyndra, for instance).

Ultimately, it is an intellectually impressive summation of many strands of thought in Western civilization, and a fair critique of the shortcomings of the present-day bureaucratic Western state, but as I see so often in books on public policy, it is much weaker when it comes to the specifics of the implied solutions.
17 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Capitalism, Not Corporatism 20 août 2013
Par Ira E. Stoll - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Professor Phelps divides economies into three categories -- modern capitalist, socialist, and corporatist. He argues that the modern capitalist variety is superior to both the socialist and corporatist variety, both by the measure of promoting labor force participation and by the measure of reported job satisfaction and life satisfaction.

So far, so good. Even if, as Professor Phelps writes, "over the years, more and more in the general public came to be persuaded by the arguments of Mises and Hayek against the socialist economy," it can only help to have the arguments restated anew, and supplemented, by an economist with the stature of Professor Phelps, a Nobel laureate who teaches at Columbia.

Things get even more interesting when Professor Phelps tries to trace what he sees as a decline in modern capitalism beginning as early as the mid-1960s and continuing through the present day. One suspect is what the author calls the "new corporatism": "Regulations of industries are instituted, aimed at shielding companies or workforces from competition. ...Shakedowns of companies by communities, nonprofits, or governments extract donations or other accommodations....The new corporatist economy, then, is pervaded by fears of holdups by the government, by stakeholders, by organized labor, and by an ocean of persons and companies ready to litigate."

Professor Phelps decries the influence of what he calls a culture of entitlement. "Many academics, once researchers endlessly testing ideas, now rate themselves so highly that they pontificate with no research at all," he writes (take that, Professor Krugman). "The growing sense of entitlement helps explain the ever-rising outlays for the safety net, which, in artificially raising economic independence beyond what people's private wealth would provide, makes it harder to obtain employee loyalty and employee engagement. The attitude of entitlement can only make it harder for a start-up firm to obtain employees who take the initiative, give a hand to others, and lend the concentration and judgment on which success importantly depends."

The author is on thinner ice, in my view, when he asserts that "wealth competes with innovation seeking." He writes that, "given the monetary rewards, more and more able and talented young people chose to go into the financial sector, rather than into the business sector." He writes, "few would deny that lives or earning and wealth accumulation do not offer the gratification and pride that lives of creation and innovation offer." But that is a false dichotomy. Which sector, "financial" or "business," is Warren Buffett in? Which sector is a partner in a Silicon Valley venture capital firm in? At the very very top, anyway, the monetary rewards are richer for technology entrepreneurs than for investment bankers.

Also unconvincing, in my view, is Professor Phelps's claim that "the resurgence of family values" has "drained companies of some of their innovative spirit." And his claim that "more and more people accept the positions taken by their political party or religion or friends rather than working out their own positions. It would be surprising if this conformity did not weigh on innovation in the business economy." If anything data show that since the 1960s in the United States political party affiliations have eroded, and independent thinking and individual choice in both politics and religion is on the rise.

As for the author's claim that "family values" are somehow at odds with commercial success or economic growth, the best counterargument is his own acknowledgements section, the first sentence of which counts among his "many advantages" in his career his "parents" and "a happy marriage with my wife Viviana."
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