Two books involving economics — one at a macro level and one at a micro level.
The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth by Benjamin Friedman is a new, long, scholarly book. It has been well reviewed for its economic history and lucid analysis of a host of issues relating to the Big Idea: economic growth is morally good. We all know that when someone’s economic well being improves they reap material benefits. What isn’t discussed as much is the moral benefits accrued to a society that promotes economic growth. There was a day when intellectuals saw the moral character of a nation as inversely related to its material progress. Not true. Though I’m in no position to scrutinize much of Friedman’s analysis, especially his historical examples, it did serve as a useful reminder that economic prosperity is good, that a rising sea lifts all, that trade liberalization and globalization are eventually good, and that there’s a role for public policy in all this, too.
Nickle and Dimed by Barbara Echrenreich is a more famous book and a few years old. Whereas Friedman painted broad strokes involving nations and centuries, Echrenreich treats us to a witty, hilarious, and depressing portrait of one woman’s tour through working class America: hers. She spends months trying to live on minimum wage, taking waitress jobs and Wal-Mart gigs. Even though she can never endure the psychological weight of the underclass — after all, she returns to her posh life at the end of her experiment — it is still an admirable feat. Not only is this a quick and fun read, it raises the consciousness of upper class readers like me and implicitly poses some meaty questions about the invisible population that waits on us in restaurants.