In a time of universal rising expectations, economic planning must
be linked with social justice worldwide if we are to enjoy peace
and prosperity, says Kapstein, a professor at the Humphrey
Institute of Public Affairs (Univ. of Minn., Minneapolis). The
story of public welfare is not new. Kapstein traces the evolution
of the welfare state from 16th-century Europe to the New Deal. Now,
even though the lot of the poor may, arguably, be better than ever,
the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. While
labor is stuck where it is, capital is increasingly mobile, heading
wherever labor is cheapest, even below levels that provide a decent
living standard. Poverty and unemployment are economically
fruitless and politically hazardous, as history shows. Free-market
concepts of liberty are not of primary value to those who are
denied an equal chance to partake of the benefits of a market
economy. The author asks societies to create environments where all
people can realize their individual talents, with life's basic
necessities and without discrimination. That, after all, accords
with America's historic core values, he says, and we should once
more put the quest for economic justice at the head of our national
to-do list. That means tying trade issues with human rights,
increasing nonmilitary foreign aid, and supporting immobile labor
as well as motile capital. The American xenophobia regarding other
economic systems is understandable, of course, given our plethora
of worldly goods, but as this text argues, we must make sure that
others get a share of good life before there are serious social and
economic disruptions. The classic economic goal of the greatest
good for the greatest number carries an inherent conflict when
what's good for the few outweighs that of the number, however
great. Must we share the wealth? Kapstein's manifesto should be a
starting point for a national debate, appropriate for the impending
presidential campaign. But that's probably too much to ask,
considering the present state of public discourse. Policy wonks,
awake! (Kirkus Reviews)
Ethan Kapstein documents how the international economic order has
torn huge holes in the welfare system, putting workers and the
economy itself at risk. The founding premise of the post-World War
II international economic agreements were that they would lead to
greater wealth and that those gains would be shared equitably. The
closing decades of the 20th century have seen co-operation
strengthened through the growth of trading blocs and multinational
firms. But nations eager to remain competitive in the new world
economy have at the same time beggared their labourers, tearing
away crucial pieces of the social safety net. The predictable
result, Kapstein argues goes far beyond the alarming trends in
income inequality already observed. Turning common wisdom on its
head, Kapstein demonstrates that programmes to ensure the health
and prosperity of workers, far from expensively undermining growth,
actually promote and sustain growth over the long run. Bolstering
his argument with historical lessons about the dangers of a
dissatisfied workforce, he drives home a new view of labour's share
in the world economy.
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