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Daniel Cohen

Daniel Cohen is Professor of Economics at the École Normale Supérieure and the Université de Paris-I. A member of the Council of Economic Analysis of the French Prime Minister, he is the author of The Wealth of the World and the Poverty of Nations, Our Modern Times: The Nature of Capitalism in the Information Age, Globalization and Its Enemies, and Three Lectures on Post-Industrial Society, all published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

A Worried View of Economics

What happened yesterday in the West is today being repeated on a global scale. Industrial society is replacing rural society: millions of peasants in China, India, and elsewhere are leaving the countryside and going to the city. New powers are emerging and rivalries are exacerbated as competition increases for control of raw materials. Contrary to what believers in the “clash of civilizations” maintain, the great risk of the twenty-first century is not a confrontation between cultures but a repetition of history. In The Prosperity of Vice, the influential French economist Daniel Cohen shows that violence, rather than peace, has been the historical accompaniment to prosperity. Peace in Europe came only after the barbaric wars of the twentieth century, not as the outcome of economic growth. What will happen this time for today’s eagerly Westernizing emerging nations?

Cohen guides us through history, describing the European discovery of the “philosopher’s stone”: the possibility of perpetual growth. But the consequences of addiction to growth are dire in an era of globalization. If a billion Chinese consume a billion cars, the future of the planet is threatened. But, Cohen points out, there is another kind of globalization: the immaterial globalization enabled by the Internet. It is still possible, he argues, that the cyber-world will create a new awareness of global solidarity. It even may help us accomplish a formidable cognitive task, as immense as that realized during the Industrial Revolution--one that would allow us learn to live within the limits of a solitary planet.

In this pithy and provocative book, noted economist Daniel Cohen offers his analysis of the global shift to a post-industrial era. If it was once natural to speak of industrial society, Cohen writes, it is more difficult to speak meaningfully of post-industrial “society.” The solidarity that once lay at the heart of industrial society no longer exists. The different levels of large industrial enterprises have been systematically disassembled: tasks considered nonessential are assigned to subcontractors; engineers are grouped together in research sites, apart from the workers. Employees are left exposed while shareholders act to protect themselves. Never has the awareness that we all live in the same world been so strong---and never have the social conditions of existence been so unequal. In these wide-ranging reflections, Cohen describes the transformations that signaled the break between the industrial and the post-industrial eras. He links the revolution in information technology to the trend toward flatter hierarchies of workers with multiple skills--and connects the latter to work practices growing out of the culture of the May 1968 protests. Subcontracting and outsourcing have also changed the nature of work, and Cohen succinctly analyzes the new international division of labor, the economic rise of China, India, and the former Soviet Union, and the economic effects of free trade on poor countries. Finally, Cohen examines the fate of the European social model--with its traditional compromise between social justice and economic productivity--in a post-industrial world.

The enemies of globalization--whether they denounce the exploitation of poor countries by rich ones or the imposition of Western values on traditional cultures--see the new world economy as forcing a system on people who do not want it. But the truth of the matter, writes Daniel Cohen in this provocative account, may be the reverse. Globalization, thanks to the speed of twenty-first-century communications, shows people a world of material prosperity that they do want--a vivid world of promises that have yet to be fulfilled. For the most impoverished developing nations, globalization remains only an elusive image, a fleeting mirage. Never before, Cohen says, have the means of communication--the media--created such a global consciousness, and never have economic forces lagged so far behind expectations.Today's globalization, Cohen argues, is the third act in a history that began with the Spanish Conquistadors in the sixteenth century and continued with Great Britain's nineteenth-century empire of free trade. In the nineteenth century, as in the twenty-first, a revolution in transportation and communication did not promote widespread wealth but favored polarization. India, a part of the British empire, was just as poor in 1913 as it was in 1820. Will today's information economy do better in disseminating wealth than the telegraph did two centuries ago? Presumably yes, if one gauges the outcome from China's perspective; surely not, if Africa's experience is a guide. At any rate, poor countries require much effort and investment to become players in the global game. The view that technologies and world trade bring wealth by themselves is no more true today than it was two centuries ago.We should not, Cohen writes, consider globalization as an accomplished fact. It is because of what has yet to happen--the unfulfilled promises of prosperity--that globalization has so many enemies in the contemporary world. For the poorest countries of the world, the problem is not so much that they are exploited by globalization as that they are forgotten and excluded.

The New Nature of Capitalism in the Information Age

The "modern times" of the early twentieth century saw the rise of the assembly line and the belief that standardization would make the world a better place. Yet along with greater production efficiency came dehumanization, as the division of labor created many jobs requiring mindless repetition rather than conscious involvement with work.

In our own modern times, a comparable revolution has been wrought by information technology. In Our Modern Times, Daniel Cohen traces the roots of this revolution back to the uprisings of 1968, when the youth of the industrialized world rejected the bourgeois values of their parents and the general situation of the workers. Students raised in the anti-establishment culture of the 1960s were able to shatter the world of standardization created by their parents. By the end of the twentieth century, information technology had created decentralized work structures that encouraged autonomy and personal initiative. But with this greater flexibility came the psychic stress and burnout of "24/7." Cohen explores the many ways that the new technology has changed our work and personal lives, our very conceptions of family and community. He argues compellingly that the present era represents a revolution that will be completed only when the importance of human capital is no longer overshadowed by the cost-saving efficiencies demanded by financial capital.

An Introduction to Modern Political Economy

translated by Jacqueline Lindenfeld Are robust economic growth and tight social cohesion something of the past, or is contemporary stagnation simply part of a long economic cycle that is bound to bring brighter days? Should government step in to boost productivity and income, or does economic globalization necessitate a new laissez-faire model for the twenty-first century?The Misfortunes of Prosperity elucidates the current debates on these and other questions in a fast-paced and incisive tour of the dominant ideas in political economy, summarizing historical and theoretical perspectives on the causes of economic growth in the United States, Western Europe, Japan and elsewhere as the twentieth-century draws to a close.Daniel Cohen discusses the effects of the showdown of productivity in Europe and the United States and explains the origin of the apparent tradeoff between unemployment in Europe and wage inequalities in the United States. On questions of economic policy and the competing academic views (new classical and Keynesian) of the efficacy of government intervention, Cohen inverts the Keynesian belief that government intervention causes growth, and explains why waves of government interventions (including wars) usually follow upward economic trends (rather than create it). But he also advocates government discretion rather than government neutrality by showing the disastrous consequences of hands off approach to debt, inflation, and social security.

The present situation, in which poor nations are becoming richer and rich nations poorer, gives credence to the idea that the former phenomenon is responsible for the latter. The great fear of many in the West is that trade with India, China, or the former Soviet Union will cause a collapse of the welfare state and of society's well-being.

"Globalization" has become a loaded term. Should we believe, literally, that trade with poor nations can be blamed for our "impoverishment"? In this book, Daniel Cohen claims that there is practically no foundation for such an alarmist position. We need to reverse the commonly held view that globalization has caused today's insecure labor market. On the contrary, Cohen argues, our own propensity for transforming the nature of work has created a niche for globalization and given it an ominous dimension, causing some to reject it. Pursuing this erroneous line of thought will place the battle for social welfare "on the sidelines" when it should be fought "on the inside." Such errors in analysis must not persist; as Cohen says, the stakes are too high.