Cover: Rewarding Work: How to Restore Participation and Self-Support to Free Enterprise, With a New Preface, from Harvard University PressCover: Rewarding Work in PAPERBACK

Rewarding Work

How to Restore Participation and Self-Support to Free Enterprise, With a New Preface

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674026940

Publication Date: 10/30/2007


208 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

1 table


In the 1960s Mr. Phelps and Milton Friedman, working independently, were the first to postulate the idea of a natural rate of unemployment. Mr. Phelps’s new work is in the same tradition of market (‘neoclassical’) economics. His argument for big subsidies to the low-paid is consistent not just with respect for the power of market forces but also, and more broadly, with a classical liberal view of the world. The idea is particularly striking because it shows how to reconcile a rigorously ‘market-friendly’ approach to policy with effective intervention by the state in pursuit of social goals… Deserves to be widely read and discussed.The Economist

The importance of Edmund Phelps’s new book is that it offers a novel yet plausible solution to America’s core economic problem, stagnant or declining wages of full-time, low-wage workers… [Phelps] calculates that the benefits to society from one’s ability to support oneself and to exercise responsibility as a parent, spouse, community member and citizen make his program self-financed, thanks to the offsetting reduction in the costs of welfare, medical care, illegitimacy, crime and other social pathologies… Phelps’s scheme can be compared to matching-grant gifts, a common practice among many companies that participate in matching employees’ alumni gifts to their alma maters… As workfare schemes begin to impinge on the U.S. labor scene, Phelps should be taken seriously. He deserves much credit as an economist with the knowledge and perseverance to grapple head-on with these devils in the details.—Edward T. Chase, The Nation

This book is addressed explicitly to the general public, in the hope, Mr. Phelps states boldly on his very first page, that its ideas will win general acceptance and be considered for enactment into law… He takes the view that many Americans have been driven out of working life, and deprived of all the physical and psychological succor that work provides, simply because their wages are too low, especially when the amount they are able to earn is compared with the amount they can ‘earn’ in payments and kind via the welfare system by doing no work at all… Mr. Phelps makes his economic case with forensic clarity.—Peter David, The Wall Street Journal

A splendid book… The Chancellor has put forward the idea of a working family tax credit… The most direct assault is always the best. If the problem is low wages and inadequate incentives to work, the solution must be wage subsidies… [Phelps] offers a compelling argument for a tapered subsidy to low-wage employment.—Martin Wolf, Financial Times

[Phelps’s] plan, laid out in…Rewarding Work, has drawn rave notices from both conservatives and liberals, making it the most interesting idea in years… Something like [this] idea…may be the only way to achieve a lasting political consensus for the open markets and technical advances that, in the long run, benefit us all.—Matthew Miller, The Washington Post

[William Julius] Wilson’s findings [on the disappearance of work] underscore the importance of Edmund S. Phelps’s book Rewarding Work. Phelps, an economist at Columbia University, argues against the idea that low-wage workers are unproductive and unreliable because of their culture or their lack of bourgeois morals. Instead, he suggests, the gap between low-wage work and middle-class work creates disincentives for the least-paid workers to obtain the education and job skills that would enhance the economy’s overall productivity… ‘America has no clear and explicit social policy toward the rewards of work,’ Phelps points out.—Alan Wolfe, The American Prospect

Phelps doesn’t like unions, would abolish tariffs, opposes the minimum wage, would dismantle the welfare state and believes deeply in the virtues of unfettered capitalism. But then something strange happens, and you hear the 64-year-old Columbia University professor urging radical intervention in the labor market. He proceeds to outline a plan that would require massive tax credits for businesses that employ low-wage workers… It turns out that he believes the only way for the welfare state to wither on the vine (and for tariffs to be eliminated once and for all) is for an idea such as his to be implemented. After reading his stimulating book, Rewarding Work, and interviewing him at some length, I’ve become a convert.—Gene Epstein, Barron’s

Rewarding Work is a calm, carefully researched, politically balanced, always professional treatise with no hint of class warfare.—Edgar R. Fiedler, Across the Board

The most serious book of public policy economics to be published this year. The beauty of Rewarding Work is, well, its beauty. It is a superby worked-out argument: clear, pithy, brief, and derived from first principles.—David Warsh, The Boston Globe

Edmund Phelps has proposed a radical scheme to subsidize low-wage labour in the United States [Workers’] pay and employment prospects would be transformed… The modern welfare state is working very badly, and Mr. Phelps’s scheme is intended in due course not to add to it, but to replace it.—Clive Crook, The Economist

In this short, popular book Edmund Phelps proposes and defends the policy of providing wage subsidies to low-wage workers. The first half of the book provides a breezy account of wages since World War II…[the second half] explains Phelp’s proposed wage subsidy and defends it against objections both from those disliking any such policy and those supporting other similar policies… Phelps is to be congratulated for turning his considerable talents to a vitally important problem.—Peter Temin, Journal of Economic History

Although it refers entirely to the USA, [Rewarding Work] is equally interesting for the European audience since an important remedy for the joblessness of less-qualified workers in Europe is claimed to be a wage structure which is more downward flexible. Moreover, the book is written in a fairly nontechnical manner so that it is suitable for a broad readership.—W. Franz, Journal of Economics [UK]

In this important book Edmund Phelps argues that the breakdown of basic societal norms is a consequence rather than a cause of economic disadvantage. His proposal of wage subsidies blends a pro-capitalist preference with a strong concern for social values and justice. This book is an important contribution to the debate on how to deal with economic disadvantage.—George Soros

Edmund Phelps’ ideas are always new, always interesting, and always worthy of serious study. Creating work for all may be our greatest social problem. Phelps’ strategy deserves serious consideration and debate.—Lawrence Summers, former Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy, Harvard University

Awards & Accolades

  • Edmund S. Phelps Is Winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics
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