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Elhanan Helpman, The Mystery of Economic Growth.

Elhanan Helpman, The Mystery of Economic Growth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. $5.95 hardcover.

Although previously neglected, the topic of economic growth (or economic development) has gained prominence not only in economic and social science circles but more widely in popular discourse. Reports of growth rates, and the factors likely to impede continued growth, are regularly presented in the news media, and ordinary people are now more likely to pay attention when reports of sluggish economic growth are headlined. In academic circles, a concern with growth was previously thought to be the appropriate purview of social scientists working in the field of international development, but today, the topic has been mainstreamed. Indeed, the volume of publications concerned with economic growth has increased significantly in recent years and many more theoretical accounts of the factors responsible for rapid economic growth have become available.

Despite greater interest and scholarship in the field, Elhanan Helpman believes that the subject is still a mysterious one. He points out that no single theoretical account has satisfactorily explained the factors responsible for the remarkable rates of economic growth that have characterized the 19th and 20th centuries and transformed traditional economies in many parts of the world. Tracing the history of economic growth and the way that growth has increased incomes and created previously unimagined wealth, he believes that the causes of economic growth can be discovered and that this knowledge can be used to formulate effective policies designed to promote prosperity. The bulk of the book describes and assesses the diverse theoretical explanations that have been offered to discover and explain the causes of growth. Successive chapters review the work that has been done on capital accumulation, the role of human capital, the contribution of technological innovation, entrepreneurship and international trade. The author also examines the question of whether inequality hinders economic growth and whether policies designed to address the problem are needed. Finally, the author focuses on the relevance of social and cultural institutions in fostering growth. He points out that economic scholarship on the role of institutions is still underdeveloped but he notes that further research on this topic offers promising directions for unraveling the mystery of economic growth.

This is an engaging book and it should be read by anyone interested in bridging the divide between economics and social policy. As many more social policy scholars have recognized, the study of human welfare needs to make greater use of economics and the insights that economists have provided. Helpman provides an interesting account of the most important contemporary theories of economic growth, and his book will be a useful resource for those who would like to know more on the subject. Mathematical notation is kept to a minimum and much of the book's subject matter is directly relevant to the concerns of social policy and social work educators. The book not only provides much useful and relevant information but is enjoyable and very readable.
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Publication:Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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