The Paradox of Progress

The Paradox of Progress : Can Americans Regain Their Confidence in a Prosperous Future?

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Things have never been better--and tomorrow they'll be better still. So argues Richard B. McKenzie in this provocative new book, The Paradox of Progress. Despite all the press stories of lay-offs and stagnant wages, despite all the talk of economic insecurity, says McKenzie, Americans have never lived so well, or had so many opportunities. The question, he writes, is not why things aren't better, but why does everyone keep complaining. In The Paradox of Progress, McKenzie demolishes the idea that the nation is in economic decline--and explains why we still feel so insecure. Writing with tremendous passion and insight, he marshals an array of data to show that the American standard of living has never been higher in real terms. Our perception of decline, he argues, comes from the press, which has long since learned that bad news sells; but he demonstrates how the 1980s--much-maligned by the media--in fact heralded a new age of prosperity and opportunity. The corporate downsizing of recent years signals the change: the old monolithic firms of the past are adjusting to an era of smaller companies, mobile capital, and new entrepreneurship. A new economic frontier is opening up--the "New West," as he calls it--as the rapid growth of electronic technology creates fresh room for growth and creativity. Government needs to get out of the way and accept the shift in "economic tectonics." And the message for workers, McKenzie writes, is clear: "Become more productive. Work harder and smarter. Get more education and skills. Get competitive. Do more than others have been doing or will likely do. Stop complaining." Public anxiety is justified, McKenzie adds, but it is misplaced: for if the shift in "economic tectonics" is ultimately a positive development, it has been accompanied by a "moral tectonics" earthquake that has been highly destructive. McKenzie attacks this moral earthquake head on, passionately echoing the words of Nobel Laureate F. A. Hayek, arguing that it is essential that we follow rules of social conduct, even if we don't like them or can't explain them rationally. Sweeping changes in the economy, and wrong-headed government programs, have undermined personal responsibility. The real social divide, he writes, is not between haves and have-nots, but between those who play by the rules, and those who refuse to. Members of the first group will eventually get ahead; those of the latter won't, and will blame everything--and everyone--except themselves. Writing with tremendous wit, personality, and force of mind, Richard McKenzie offers a provocative and deeply optimistic book. In it, he presents a bold vision of a new era in which Americans can and will compete and win, if they simply seize the opportunities that await more

Product details

  • Hardback | 255 pages
  • 162.56 x 231.14 x 25.4mm | 657.71g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 1 line drawing, bibliography
  • 0195102398
  • 9780195102390

Review Text

An audit of America's socioeconomic condition, which effectively refutes the protestations of latter-day Jeremiahs that the country's best days are behind it. Without gainsaying the existence of problems in many areas of US life, McKenzie (The Home, 1995, etc.; Graduate School of Management/Univ. of California, Irvine) makes a persuasive case for the upbeat proposition that the promise of the nation's tomorrows is appreciably greater than the considerable achievements of its yesterdays. Disarmingly, he first concedes the perils of prophecy, reviewing wide-of-the-mark predictions made for 1990 by 70-odd commentators a century earlier at the Chicago Columbian Exposition. Getting clown to business, the author documents the gains Americans made during the past couple of decades in terms of living standards, creature comforts, and opportunity. Addressing the paradox of progress (i.e., angst in the face of prosperity), McKenzie concludes that technology has given Americans young and old a host of new frontiers to explore and develop. He goes on to reckon the frequently high price (corporate layoffs, diminished job security, the need for individuals to adapt to convulsive change) that must be paid to keep the US competitive in a global marketplace. Covered as well is the slow pace at which political institutions have responded to potent new forces, the accelerating shift of government power to local levels, and (in aid of restoring what the author calls the moral infrastructure) a trend to impose community standards of behavior and personal responsibility on willful renegades whom victim theology has hitherto excused. Winding up (not down) in a burst of enthusiasm, McKenzie urges aging Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to stop whining and start taking advantage of the bright prospects he envisions for post-millennial America. A useful, timely, and forceful reminder of what's right with the US, from a scholar who's more Polonius than Pollyanna. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Richard B. MacKenzie

About the Author: Richard B. McKenzie is Walter B. Gerken Professor of Enterprise and Society at the Graduate School of Management, University of California, Irvine. His books include The Home, What Went Right in the 1980s, and Quicksilver Capital: How the Rapid Movement of Wealth Has Changed the more