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First published in 1975, Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff, by famed economist Arthur Okun, has been continuously in print for nearly four decades. The book owes it enduring appeal to Okun's skill in discussing the tensions between the political principles of democracy and the economic principles of capitalism. At its heart is the question: To what extent should government (and society) pursue economic equality?
In this re-issue in the Brookings Classics series, Larry Summers provides an introduction that reflects on Okun's work, and suggests framing for modern readers. Given contemporary conversations about the top one percent and the shrinking middle class, Equality and Efficiency, is only growing in its importance as a clear introduction to one of the central political and economic issues of the last century, and in all likelihood-the century to come.
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.