December 28, 2005

Steady state economy, dystopian society

Brad DeLong reviews Ben Friedman's "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth" and says:
[Friedman argues that] when the wheels stop—even as the result of economic stagnation, rather than a downturn or a depression—political democracy, individual liberty, and social tolerance are then greatly at risk even in countries where the absolute level of material prosperity remains high....

Consider just one of his examples—a calculation he picks up from his colleague Alberto Alesina, Ropes professor of political economy, and others: in an average country in the late twentieth century, real per capita income is falling by 1.4 percent in the year in which a military coup occurs; it is rising by 1.4 percent in the year in which there is a legitimate constitutional transfer of political power; and it is rising by 2.7 percent in the year in which no major transfer of political power takes place. If you want all kinds of non-economic good things, Friedman says—like openness of opportunity, tolerance, economic and social mobility, fairness, and democracy—rapid economic growth makes it much, much easier to get them; and economic stagnation makes getting and maintaining them nearly impossible. [...]

[T]he central thesis of the book is clear: the subchapters show the virtuous circles (by which economic growth and sociopolitical progress and liberty reinforce each other) and the vicious circles (by which stagnation breeds violence and dictatorship) in action. Where growth is rapid, the movement toward democracy is easier and societies become freer and more tolerant.

No comments:

Post a Comment