Have you ever dreamed of a world where most everyone is busy with a challenging, stimulating, uniquely fulfilling job? Edmund Phelps, 2006 Nobel laureate, coined a phrase, "mass flourishing," to describe a dynamic economy that favors innovation and transforms this idealist notion into reality
In fact, according to Phelps, early 19th century America was the embodiment of such dynamism. How can modern America create the right environment for mass flourishing to return? Phelps offered a few suggestions.
Have the right attitude.
Mass flourishing can only start with the right belief system, and for this, we should let history be our guide. The early 19th century witnessed the introduction of what Phelps calls "modern values." Enlightenment thinking, combined with the scientific revolution and an acceptance of uncertainty about the future, helped foster the idea that we all possessed a unique creativity that was just waiting to be explored.
Make the city the center.
Phelps believes that scientific advances don't happen in a vacuum. "The innovator is very cerebral, while the entrepreneur is a hail fellow well met who is slapping everybody on the back and getting people to put shoulder to the wheel," says Phelps. To encourage a meeting of these minds, it helps to have a concentration of people, which typically happens in urban areas, who "can toss out an idea over a beer at the end of a working day."
Strive for economic justice.
Phelps is often characterized as a libertarian, but he actually thinks a government friendly to mass flourishing would play an active role in evening out the economic playing field. "A little economic justice would be nice," says Phelps. "Like subsidizing low wage work at companies, so as to pull up wages and pull low wage people into the business sector so they're better role models for their children. And we've got to get the federal government involved in improving education."
Destroy the "new corporatism.
"According to Phelps, one of the biggest barriers to mass flourishing is the idea that the government exists to hand out benefits to interest groups because the market is no good. "In such a system of patronage and pork barrel politics...the CEO may be quite justified in thinking that his time is better spent lobbying for a carve out from some regulation or for a piece of patronage, than it is scratching his head trying to figure out with his colleagues what's a better way to produce the product or what's a better product to produce. Innovation is bound to suffer from this system."
In a way, Phelps says that rediscovering mass flourishing is as easy as embracing an idea that seems to be at odds with modernism, but which actually is its best friend: "Life is a voyage into the unknown."