Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change [NOOK Book]


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...

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

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Gilbert T. SewallNobel Prize–winning economist Phelps (Designing Inclusion), director of Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, attempts to define the experience of modern economic life in his latest book. Now 79, Phelps is best known for his findings on time-related macroeconomic trade-offs. This panoramic view of economic institutions considers individual freedom and the capacity to develop talent to be modernity’s indispensable gifts. For Phelps, the masses, not isolated visionaries like Steve Jobs, are the agents of “flourishing.” While the future is indeterminate, Phelps writes, “Originality is a renewable energy, driving the future in unknowable ways.” As prime ingredients, Phelps cites “modern” values such as working and thinking for yourself, self-expression, eagerness to work, competition, and the legal rights of individuals. Values determining a country’s “generation of high economic performance” include the “desire to conceive novel ideas, to develop these ideas into new products, and to try out the new products.” To support his argument, Phelps draws from Aristotle, Abraham Maslow, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, and John Rawls. In addition, he inventively utilizes literary figures and creative geniuses including Emily Brontë and J.M.W. Turner. The book bubbles with speculative connections, including some—such as an account of why Beethoven “rocketed” to popularity—that seem far-fetched. But Phelps’s range is bracing. On self-discovery, he even cites Lady Gaga. In contemporary economies, Phelps deplores subsidies and special-interest legislation and the “sorry record of unintended consequences” they have induced in agriculture, housing, energy, and finance. In the U.S., he ponders the “new corporatism” of the Democratic Party. He takes aim at regulative drag, structural unemployment, executive salaries, and rising market barriers as he worries over the future “supply of innovation.” America’s peak years of innovation ran from the 1820s to the 1960s, Phelps thinks (here and elsewhere). He argues that a slowdown in dynamism since then has contributed to soaring inequality; his conclusions that economic flourishing remains alive today and that the West retains its “can-do spirit” are not fully convincing. The book is designed to be an academic mandarin’s epitome. At the end of the book, putting himself squarely in the center of history and economic thought since the beginning of time, Phelps risks more than a tinge of egotism. However, inquiring readers, not just academics and social scientists, will enjoy the vast learning in Phelps’s sophisticated, sometimes sardonic, look at homo economicus. 20 line illus., 5 tables. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Sept.) Gilbert T. Sewall is the author of Necessary Lessons and editor of The Eighties: A Reader.
From the Publisher
"The book is wide-ranging and highly eclectic: in just two pages (pp. 280-281) you'll find references to Cervantes, Shakespeare, Hume, Voltaire, Jefferson, Keats, William Earnest Henley, William James, Walt Whitman, Abraham Maslow, Rawls, Nietzsche, and Lady Gaga! . . . Anyone interested in the synthesis of free markets and social justice will find this eminent thinker's distinctive version of that synthesis both illuminating and thought-provoking."—Brink Lindsey, Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog

"Phelps, a Nobel laureate in economics, defies categorisation. In this extraordinary book—part history, part economics and part philosophy—he proclaims individual enterprise as the defining characteristic of modernity. But he fears this dynamism is lost. One does not have to agree to recognise that Phelps has addressed some of the big questions about our future."—Martin Wolf, Financial Times

"Phelps has given us a clear warning of the dangers of corporatism. I hope that more people hear and heed the warning."—Arnold Kling, Econlog

"[I]t wasn't until today that I started looking at Mass Flourishing by Edmund Phelps, about the central role of innovation in modern growth and, more, in the enabling of the good life. Obviously I should have read it last week. It looks right on theme, and it is pleasing to pick up an economics book that has a chapter on Aristotle."—Enlightened Economist

"One does not have to agree to recognise that Phelps has addressed some of the big questions about our future."—Financial Times

"Mass Flourishing offers a brilliant dissection of the origins, causes, and eventual decline of modern capitalism—an inclusive economy characterized by the complex unfettered interactions among diverse indigenous innovators, entrepreneurs, financiers, and consumers. . . . This book should be accessible to general readers and is especially stimulating for graduate students and those interested in economics, sociology, history, political science, and psychology."—Choice

"It applies many important aspects of Virginia political economy, making a contribution to understanding not only the positive, but also the normative implications of the rules of the game."—Rosolino Candela, Public Choice

"It challenges many of our prized assumptions about what makes economies succeed."—David P Goldman, Standpoint

"This is a recommended read, not only because it was written by Edmund Phelps, the 2006 Nobel Laureate in economics, but for encouraging reflection on fundamental issues related to modern life and the contemporary interpretation of Aristotle's 'the good life'. The author is such an experienced and iconic guide that it makes the journey through the subjects covered in the book an excellent read for anyone."—Jacek Klich, Central Banking Journal

Library Journal
Nobel Prize-winning economist Phelps (director, Ctr. on Capitalism and Society, Columbia Univ.; Designing Inclusion; Rewarding Work; Seven Schools of Macroeconomic Thought) examines why certain countries have prospered at points in their histories while others have not. According to the author, countries with dynamic economies have created cultures in which material wealth is only one indicator of their success. Another component of economic abundance may be defined as the "good life," a general term relating to the values of an affluent society driven by the capable masses. To "flourish" is continually to reach improved levels in personal growth and self-expression, initiating new ideas and innovation. Phelps argues that the ability to flourish leads people to refreshed levels of productivity overall. He asserts that such cultural values underlie dynamic "modern economies." Moreover, misconceptions about the nature of the "good life," such as beliefs in the legitimacy of corporate greed or the right to government entitlements, threaten and weaken economies. Phelps has produced an insightful work that bridges gaps among economics, sociology, and philosophy to identify countries that have the capabilities to prosper and flourish. VERDICT This book is an essential read for individuals interested in better assessing countries' economies and competitive advantages.—Caroline Geck, Camden Street Sch. Lib., Newark, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400848294
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Course Book
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 514,767
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Edmund Phelps was the 2006 Nobel Laureate in economics. He is director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University. His many books include "Designing Inclusion," "Rewarding Work", and "Seven Schools of Macroeconomic Thought".
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Table of Contents

Preface vii
Introduction: Advent of the Modern Economies 1
PART ONE The Experience of the Modern Economy
1 How Modern Economies Got Their Dynamism 19
2 Material Eff ects of the Modern Economies 41
3 The Experience of Modern Life 55
4 How Modern Economies Formed 77
PART TWO Against the Modern Economy
5 The Lure of Socialism 113
6 The Third Way: Corporatism Right and Left 135
7 Weighing the Rivals on Their Terms 170
8 The Satisfaction of Nations 193
PART THREE Decay and Refounding
9 Markers of Post-1960s Decline 219
10 Understanding the Post-1960s Decline 237
11 The Good Life: Aristotle and the Moderns 268
12 The Good and the Just 289
Epilogue: Regaining the Modern 310
Timeline: Modernism and Modernity 325
Bibliography 337
Acknowledgments 351
Index 353
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