Culture > Books

A moral infrastructure

Books | The economy, like the rest of society, demands a moral base

Issue: "Spring Draining," April 12, 1997

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the United States is in economic decline. Jobs are unstable, wages are falling, and only new forms of government intervention can save Americans from a dismal future.

Happily, in the opinion of Richard McKenzie, a professor at the University of California (Irvine), the conventional wisdom is wrong. In The Paradox of Progress he argues--with the help of abundant data--that we continue to enjoy "an amazing historical record of progress that has not, contrary to widespread but mistaken impressions, been broken in modern times."

What makes his book particularly valuable is Mr. McKenzie's interest in morality. He writes that "the economy has a moral, as well as physical, foundation that for segments of society may be crumbling in a slow but relentless rumble." In his view, restoring this moral infrastructure is imperative.

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Also interesting is The High-Risk Society, from Michael Mandel, a former editor at Business Week magazine. Mr. Mandel contends that the very forces that make the market so robust--constant industry restructuring and technological change--make people's lives so uncertain. Thus, economic success will require a readiness to take risks. As a result, we are likely to face increasingly intense debates over what kind of social safety net to extend for those who are ill-educated, ill-skilled, and risk-averse.

Looking backward is Michael Lind's The Alamo. Mr. Lind is hyperactive, turning out books attacking his former conservative allies, novels criticizing Washington, and now an epic poem on the battle of the Alamo. Mr. Lind's new liberal friends are likely to disown him after reading his celebration of this Texan and American saga.

Battlefield heroism obviously didn't end in 1836. In CAP MOT former Marine Barry Goodson describes the special program that inserted small Combined Action Program units into Vietnamese villages to work with local peasants and combat the Viet Cong.

Marines left only when their tour was finished, or they were wounded (like Mr. Goodson) or killed. It was tough but often rewarding duty.

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