William Galston explores the difficulties market democracies face in an era of diminished growth and a weakened middle class. Galston argues that if the West fails to address economic stagnation, other domestic and foreign policy issues will prove intractable. Economic stagnation means a continuation of gridlocked, zero-sum politics and represents a threat to democratic institutions, he writes.
This treatise on our democracy is an absolute must-read for everyone. Below is the spoiler, but don’t miss the opportunity to read and contemplate everything Galston has to say.
"In modern circumstances, then, economic growth is more than a material goal; it is a moral enterprise as well. Because I cannot improve on the economist Benjamin Friedman’s formulation of this proposition, I conclude by quoting a passage that summarizes his magisterial book, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.
“The value of a rising standard of living lies not just in the concrete improvements it brings to how individuals live but in how it shapes the social, political and, ultimately, the moral character of a people. Economic growth—meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens—more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy. . . . Even societies that have already made great advances in these very dimensions, for example, most of today’s Western democracies, are more likely to make still further progress when their living standards rise. But when living standards stagnate or decline, most societies make little or more progress toward any of these goals, and in all too many instances they plainly retrogress.”
"That is why, as Friedman insists, the central question the United States now faces is whether the next generation will again achieve broadly shared prosperity or rather experience the stagnation of living standards. Broad prosperity is both the oil that lubricates the machinery of government and the glue that binds our society together. Economic stagnation means a continuation of gridlocked, zero-sum politics and a turn away from the spirit of generosity that only a people confident of its future can sustain.
"At long last, our leaders must turn away from peripheral squabbles and attend to the one issue that more than any other will define our country’s prospects. The stakes could not be higher, and we have waited long enough."