A Theory of Full Employment. (Book Reviews)

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A Theory of Full Employment. By Y. S. Brenner and N. Brenner-Golomb, 2nd edn, Transaction Publishers 2000.

This book is a passionate critique of modem capitalist societies--in particular Western advanced economies--and, at the same time, a critique of mainstream economics for its inability to understand the real working of the economy and, hence, to provide sound policies with which to solve the most pressing problems we currently face. For Brenner and Brenner-Golomb, the achievement of full employment is no longer the primary objective of mainstream economic policies. The realization of higher levels of employment, and better living standards for a larger share of population, requires a radically different approach to economic analysis and policy. The achievement of full employment is not only socially desirable; it also ensures a higher rate of growth. But the authors of the book go well beyond a critique of the traditional field of economics; a large part of the book is devoted to the critique of current philosophical and methodological streams, by particularly concentrating on what they regard as "the devaluat ion of the concept of truth".

This is the second edition of the book, which comprises 17 chapters plus an introduction to the new edition. More precisely, 11 Chapters (around 100 pages) are concerned with topics that are traditionally considered by economists, whereas Chapters 13 to 15 (around 90 pages) are devoted to philosophical issues; Chapter 16 is mostly concerned with the political dimension. The book was first published in 1996; at the time the authors saw a very bleak future for Western societies. Their views have not changed since then. The changes that took place between 1996 and 2000 did not persuade the authors to change their minds; if anything, they reinforced their previous critical positions. In fact, the most noticeable change of the second edition is the new introduction, while the whole structure of the book remains substantially unchanged.

The very wide range of topics covered by the book makes a reviewer's task hard. To enter a detailed discussion of the main issues raised in this book, let alone all of them, is impossible in the context of a review and, besides, would require an acquaintance with other disciplines that I do not have. Therefore, I will mainly concentrate on some economic issues, with which I feel more confident to deal. Somebody more knowledgeable in the fields of philosophy, methodology and epistemology might well wish to write a different review.

The authors criticize traditional economic policies because they produce inequitable social outcomes as they cannot be really effective in the present structural context of market economies. In their analysis, the authors hold that Western economies have recently undergone some structural changes, which are the fundamental causes of the present critical situation and make current policies ineffective as well as socially unjust.

Brenner and Brenner-Golomb, in particular, concentrate on two aspects that they regard as recent major structural changes: the increasing separation of management from ownership of firms and the growing dominance of large monopolistic or oligopolistic firms, which are largely multinational. These changes took place in a context in which the fundamental forces regulating the social and economic system also changed.

In the analysis of the book, the basic rationale underlying capitalism before World War II was fear: "employers were afraid of being driven out of business and reduced to the ranks of the proletariat, and workers feared destitution and starvation" (p. 6). It was competition, among employers and between employers and employees, which engendered such fears. After World War II, during the period of strong economic expansion, such fears began to disappear. The "dual" fears weakened and their place was taken by other driving forces. As for employers, the fear of destitution was replaced by greed; as for workers, complicity took the place of solidarity. …