The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth by Benjamin M. Friedman
Booms are better than busts.
When the good times roll, people have more money, more options in life, more fun, higher living standards. The material case for prosperity seems incontestable. And now, it appears, there is also a moral case. Max Weber told us that good character promotes economic growth. Benjamin M. Friedman, who has taught economics at Harvard for 33 years, turns this around. He argues that growth not only relies upon morality, but also has “positive moral consequences.” What might these be? In Friedman’s words: “Economic growth—meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens—more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy.” Conversely, Friedman warns, periods of economic stagnation threaten a country’s “moral character”—as, in his view, moral character is threatened right now in the United States: The rising intolerance and incivility and the eroding generosity and openness that have marked important aspects of American society in the recent past have been, in significant part, a consequence of the stagnation of American middle-class standards during much of the last quarter of the 20th century.
About the Author
Dan Seligman is a contributing editor of Forbes.