Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff

Brookings Institution Press
Free sample

Contemporary American society has the look of a split-level structure. Its political and social institutions distribute rights and privileges universally and proclaim the equality of all citizens. Yet economic institutions, with efficiency as their guiding principle, create disparities among citizens in living standards and material welfare. This mixture of equal rights and unequal economic status breeds tensions between the political principles of democracy and the economic principles of capitalism. Whenever the wealthy try for extra helpings of supposedly equal rights, and whenever the workings of the market deny anyone a minimum standard of living, "dollars transgress on rights"—in the author's phrase.

In this revised and expanded version of the Godkin Lectures presented at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University in April 1974, Arthur M. Okun explores the conflicts that arise when society's desire to reduce inequality would impair economic efficiency, confronting policymakers with "the big tradeoff."

Other economic systems have attempted to solve this problem; but the best of socialist experiments have achieved a greater degree of equality than our mixed capitalist democracy only at heavy costs in efficiency, and dictatorial governments have reached heights of efficiency only by rigidly repressing their citizenry.

In contrast, our basic system emerges as a viable, if uneasy, compromise in which the market has its place and democratic institutions keep it in check. But within the existing system there are ways to gain more of one good thing at a lower cost in terms of the other. In Okun's view, society's concern for human dignity can be directed at reducing the economic deprivation that stains the record of American democracy—through progressive taxation, transfer payments, job programs, broadening equality of opportunity, eliminating racial and sexual discrimination, and lowering barriers to access to capital.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Brookings Institution Press
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Published on
Dec 1, 2010
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Pages
124
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ISBN
9780815716747
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.

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What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.

Bonus material added to the revised and expanded 2006 edition

The original New York Times Magazine article about Steven D. Levitt by Stephen J. Dubner, which led to the creation of this book.

Seven “Freakonomics” columns written for the New York Times Magazine, published between August 2005 and April 2006.

Selected entries from the Freakonomics blog, posted between April 2005 and May 2006 at http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/.

An unimpeachable classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in 1944—when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock, and barrel to the socialist program—The Road to Serfdom was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production. For F. A. Hayek, the collectivist idea of empowering government with increasing economic control would lead not to a utopia but to the horrors of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

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With this new edition, The Road to Serfdom takes its place in the series The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. The volume includes a foreword by series editor and leading Hayek scholar Bruce Caldwell explaining the book's origins and publishing history and assessing common misinterpretations of Hayek's thought. Caldwell has also standardized and corrected Hayek's references and added helpful new explanatory notes. Supplemented with an appendix of related materials ranging from prepublication reports on the initial manuscript to forewords to earlier editions by John Chamberlain, Milton Friedman, and Hayek himself, this new edition of The Road to Serfdom will be the definitive version of Hayek's enduring masterwork.
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