Democracy and Prosperity is quite an interesting book that took a while to sympathize with its message. The author's argue for the resilience of capitalism governed in a democratic society and makes the point that voter's have chosen this path. At first glance that seems anything but the case in the fractured world we live in. Looking around today it is hard not to feel pessimistic about the prospects of collaborative solution forming or of consensus based politics. The authors discuss the evolution of democratic societies, how they grew coincident with industrialization and how the back and forth between the market system and the voting system was in synch. The authors focus on Europe including the Nordics and include the US in their analysis as well.
The authors start with the history of industrialization and talk about the paths democracy has taken. They focus on the effective two paths, one where society needs more skilled labor to further its growth and industrialization came first and broadening of rights was enabled by elites to improve their labor force, the other where labor was enfranchised earlier and asked for more protections as they unionized their voting. The US and UK are more the latter whereas Germany is more the former for example. The author discusses when these growth models were at their peak and in particular spends quite a bit of time on the golden manufacturing era as embodied by Fordism. In such a time labor expanded capital productivity more quickly and so there was a substantial broadening of the middle class as well as empowerment of a large portion of the population. The author discusses the change to the knowledge economy and talks about how despite all the advances in telecommunications, colocation remains of utmost importance and agglomeration effects of key cities cannot be replaced. Thus trying maintain that current dense areas that reflect the knowledge economy are not replaceable by diffuse populations. All of these topics are of some interest but more informative and definitely more interestingly described elsewhere. For example the recent book by Carl Frey on the history of industrialization is far more readable. The authors then discuss the rise of populism and the desires of people not to go back in time but to feel included in the growth. They argue the lack of that is what is truly feeding populism, not a desire for an entirely new order. Though it is hard not to think that is the case, one only has to look around to feel doubt about that. The really interesting part of the book to me was their idea about democracy enabling the growth regimes that are now on a global scale no longer delivering. In particular, the author's argue that democratic populations in the US and UK wanted to be a knowledge economy and those of Japan and Germany wanted to be manufacturing economies with education systems that favored professional training. Thus the history of each market economy with democratic accountability took each country, with the voters advocacy, to its current state. It is on the global scale that these growth models no longer are serving those voters as they thought and now that they aren't there is a rise in populism. I definitely think this is a nuanced view, though only partially correct, but it is a very interesting perspective to take.
Democracy and Prosperity is a look at the history of democracy in the Western world and how it has co-evolved with capitalism. They argue there is no conflict between the two and in fact democracy chose these market paths and elites took these paths on the back of voter advocacy. I think this from a top down view can be understood and has some weight as the education models of Germany are different from the US and they both served their comparative advantages. Today though it is questionable, people cannot see the future and the idea that there is an informed view of what policies of the future should look like and what they will deliver is wrong, hence there is a rise in populism. It could be that technology will disrupt historical relationships between capitalism and democracy and the last 20 years have not been actively voted on by populations. In the US there is definitely a loss of representative democracy. This book is probably more accurate for much of Europe then all of Western democracy but all in all it made some unique points which are worthy of reflection.
- Hardcover: 360 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (15 January 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691182736
- ISBN-13: 978-0691182735
- Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 721 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)