Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

3 Book Recommendations: Openness & Progress

| Dec. 24, 2018

I was asked for 2 or 3 end-of-year book recommendations.  My choices are Pinker, Irwin & Clausing.
(The choices of others can be found at Project Syndicate or winnowed down.)

Recommendation 1

Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking Press, 2018).
The assertion is hard to believe, and Pinker (Psychology Department, Harvard) knows that.  But the trends in various aspects of human welfare are upward and onward: “life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide.”  The English homicide rate is down by a factor of about 50 since the Middle Ages.  Worldwide – including poor countries — average life expectancy is now 71 years, up from 30. The number of people in extreme poverty globally is down about 1 billion just since 1990 alone. And so on, across many criteria. The underlying reason is the power of the Enlightenment, that is, the philosophy of reason, science and progress.  Pinker is a lone voice calling on us to better appreciate the gifts of the Enlightenment.  The institutions of liberal democracy are now taken for granted at best, and are under attack, at worst.

Recommendation 2

Douglas Irwin, Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy (University of Chicago Press; a paperback edition will be out in 2019).

Rare:  a talked-about economics book that amply rewards reading all 860 pages.  Especially rare:  very clear explanation of the political economy forces of trade that overarch the narrative of US tariff history.  Irwin (Economics Department, Dartmouth College) persuasively divides the history into three segments:
(1) 1763-1865 – Revenue: Alexander Hamilton instated tariffs that were no higher than necessary to fund the new government.
(2) 1865-1932 – Restriction:  When the agricultural South lost the Civil War, it also lost the political power to counter-balance the protectionism of Republican manufacturing interests concentrated in the Northeast.
(2) 1932-2017 – Reciprocity: Learning from the catastrophes of the 1930s, the US subsequently led the world to an open rules-based multilateral trading system, from which all countries benefited.

Recommendation 3 — Most promising new book due out in 2019

Kimberly Clausing, Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration & Global Capital(Harvard University Press, 2019).

Why should the anti-globalizers have a monopoly on the idea that the goal of maximizing GDP should be supplemented by cultural considerations, human values and a concern for inequality?  It is neither a paradox nor a coincidence that “liberal” means both “free economic exchange” and “progressive.”  Kim Clausing (Economics Department, Reed College), a top expert on globalization and international taxation, has a new book, Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration & Global Capital. It sounds great.  They say the book will be out in March.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Frankel, Jeffrey.3 Book Recommendations: Openness & Progress.” Views on the Economy and the World, December 24, 2018,