While it is often acknowledged that we live in a "postindustrial" age, our economic concepts have lagged far behind our postmodern sensibility. In this incisive new work, the well-known sociologist, Fred Block, sheds obsolete and shopworn economic analysis by presenting a bold, sweeping reconceptualization of the economy. Postindustrial Possibilities provides a fresh understanding of the dynamics of postindustrial change while offering a roadmap for future economic thinking.
Block takes as his point of departure the tired concepts of neo-classical economics which, while still dominant, fall short as tools for comprehending contemporary economic forces. In Block's mind, the failure to revise the concepts of industrial economics means that the reality of today's economy is increasingly understood as "through a glass darkly." Intent on reinvigorating thinking in this area, Block masterfully critiques the central categories of neo-classical economics, such as the market, labor, and capital.
Block argues that the neo-classical tradition has obscured the fact that capitalist prosperity has been built not on "free markets" but rather on systematic constraints on market freedom. He further suggests that measurements of capital have become increasingly problematic and that the concept obscures the critical sources of productivity within organizations. In his far-reaching analysis of the Gross National Product, Block shows that there is a growing divergence between the factors that determine people's well-being and trends in measured GNP.
Postindustrial Possibilities sets forth a new intellectual paradigm that might be called "Qualitative Growth." One of its primary foci is a shift toward improved product quality and greater priority for various non-commodity satisfactions such as leisure, interesting work, economic security and a safe and clean environment. It also promotes a recognition that greater economic efficiency rests not on infusions of capital but on cooperative labor relations and on institutional reform.
Wide-ranging, intellectually vibrant and lucid, Postindustrial Possibilities will engender controversy and debate. It is an enormous contribution that social scientists and policymakers will need to come to terms with.
1. The Postindustrial Context
2. Economic Sociology
3. The Market
7. Alternatives: Qualitative Growth
Fred L. Block is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Davis and author of The Origins of International Economic Disorder (California, 1977), among other books.
"Changing economic realities have outmoded much of traditional economic and social theory. Block has taken an inchoate concept and given it precision and force. His analyses of the new technologies are a major contribution to the revived field of 'economic sociology;' but they also contribute to the ongoing debates on industrial policy and the expansion of democratic decision-making."—Daniel Bell, Harvard University
"Block's book marks the coming of age of economic sociology. By challenging the central concepts of neo-classical economics Block allows us to think in new ways about healthy economic growth in the context of a more democratic society. He provides a powerful and hopeful analysis of some of our most daunting problems."—Robert N. Bellah, co-author of Habits of the Heart
"Block has undertaken the ambitious task of laying out the possibilities that lie within modern capitalism, but are obscured by the conventional perceptions of its economic structure and institutions. By closely examining these perceptions, ranging from labor and capital to that great tutelary deity, the market, Block enables us to see alternative arrangements for achieving qualitative economic growth. At a time when thinking about the future of advanced capitalism was ever more necessary or more difficult, Postindustrial Possibilities seems to me exactly the clear, critical, and constuctive vision that social theory needs."—Robert L. Heilbroner, New School for Social Research
"From start to finish, this original and provocative book is impossible to put down. Postindustrial Possibilities clarifies and makes sense of our contemporary 'great transformation.' In so doing, it not only maps social reality incisively, it also provides a powerful critique of the tools in the kitbag of social science (the superb chapter on the market alone is worth the price of admission). At once normative, historical, and policy-oriented, the book suggests an alternative approach rooted in economic sociology that significantly broadens the scope of discussion about possible futures for the United States."—Ira Katznelson, New School for Social Research
"A brilliant book that illuminates both the quandaries and possibilities of postindustrial society. Writing in the tradition of Karl Polyani, Fred Block provides a refreshing antidote to the triumphalism of free market ideology that dominates our era, and also lays the intellectual groundwork for alternative and more humane forms of economic organization."—Frances Fox Piven, City University of New York