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Originally published in 1975, Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff is a very personal work from one of the most important macroeconomists of the last hundred years. And this new edition includes "Further Thoughts on Equality and Efficiency," a paper published by the author two years later.
In classrooms Arthur M. Okun may be best remembered for Okun's Law, but his lasting legacy is the respect and admiration he earned from economists, practitioners, and policymakers. Equality and Efficiency is the perfect embodiment of that legacy, valued both by professional economists and those readers with a keen interest in social policy. To his fellow economists, Okun presents messages, in the form of additional comments and select citations, in his footnotes. To all readers, Okun presents an engaging dual theme: the market needs a place, and the market needs to be kept in its place.
As Okun puts it: Institutions in a capitalist democracy prod us to get ahead of our neighbors economically after telling us to stay in line socially. This double standard professes and pursues an egalitarian political and social system while simultaneously generating gaping disparities in economic well-being.
Today, Okun's dual theme feels incredibly prescient as we grapple with the hot-button topic of income inequality. In his foreword, Lawrence H. Summers declares:
On what one might think of as questions of "economic philosophy," I doubt that Okun has been improved on in the subsequent interval. His discussion of how societies rely on rights as well as markets should be required reading for all young economists who are enamored with market solutions to all problems.
With a new foreword by Lawrence H. Summers
Posted October 9, 2006
In the 1974 Godkin Lecture at Harvard University, prominent economist Arthur M. Okun addressed a pressing social conundrum: how human rights and the free market mutually inhibit each other. In this book, which revises and expands that presentation, the late economist ventured beyond his field¿s customary territory by examining the nonfinancial benefits of an egalitarian society and explaining how the U.S. could move further in this direction. With clarity and wit, he discussed such issues as the nature of rights and of free markets, private versus public ownership, and the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of income. In other hands, these subjects might seem dry and technical here they do not. The book is more than 30 years old. Therefore, unsurprisingly, some of its assumptions and predictions about public opinion and policy are dated (for example, the projection that U.S. politicians would be unlikely to question Social Security¿s success) and the statistics are positively quaint, such as a U.S. national mean income of $14,000. Nevertheless, we recommend this amazingly still fresh, lucid discussion to policy makers, students of the economy, journalists and socially concerned executives.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.