One of the paradoxes of our time is that even though material conditions have improved dramatically across the world over the last several decades, it is commonly asserted that more people feel anxious and depressed. Surely there are more reports of such dislocation and perhaps better treatment of these conditions. Understanding this alleged conundrum is critical to the future course of social policy. An increasing number of important conservative thinkers point to modern capitalism as the source of our malaise. Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute criticized labor markets in his recent book The Once and Future Worker. And Raghuram Rajan, a professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, offers his account of why more people feel despair in his new book, The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind.
I’ve covered Cass’s book previously, so will focus on Rajan’s work in this column. Before joining Booth, Rajan was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India. His training is in finance, not sociology, which is a far more nebulous field of study. But his book ventures quite often into sociological territory. A distinguished conservative intellectual, Rajan writes in his book: “We are surrounded by plenty. Humanity has never been richer as technologies of production have improved steadily over the last two hundred and fifty years. It is not just the developed countries that have grown wealthier; billions across the developing world have moved from stressful poverty to a comfortable middle-class existence in the span of a generation. Income is more evenly spread across the world than at any other time in our lives. For the first time in history we have it in our power to eradicate hunger and starvation elsewhere.”More