THE RETREAT FROM RICHES: Affluence and Its Enemies by Peter & Leonard Ross Passell

THE RETREAT FROM RICHES: Affluence and Its Enemies

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A witty departure on the topic ""Is Growth Good?"" by an economist and a law don who have appeared in the New York Times and New York Review of Books. They effectively mock ""anti-materialism"" as the ""white elitism that confides that mushrooming incomes for the masses can only dilute the pleasures of those on top"" and comment more earnestly that ""Most Americans buy tasteless furniture because it is cheap, and drink more to relieve fatigue than ennui."" They insist on an obvious but often contested point -- that growth is ""the only way in which America will ever reduce poverty."" Pollution can be solved by making business ""put its money where its exhaust is,"" and the Limits to Growth tract is ridiculed for assuming geometric population expansion with little or no technological development. But the authors also see unfortunate ""side effects"" of growth, and here the book turns conventional, if not simply out of date. Growth is said to cause inflation, an argument for which the authors rely on the all-but-discredited ""Phillips Curve"" -- the notion that higher employment brings wage increases and in turn inflation. Not only the traditional U. S. history of high wages and low prices but the last five years' experience of several European countries provides firm empirical contradiction of this view; and common sense would demand to know why production of more goods shouldn't lower prices instead of raising them, especially since the technological level keeps rising. With the book's conclusion that ""zero growth is not a cure-all, neither is rapid growth,"" the telling banter of the beginning has given way to the commonplaces of the ""radical middle.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1972
Publisher: Viking