Progress and the Invisible Hand: The Philosophy and Economics of Human Advance. Richard Bronk. Little, Brown and Company.

Progress and the Invisible Hand: The Philosophy and Economics of Human Advance Book Cover Progress and the Invisible Hand: The Philosophy and Economics of Human Advance
Richard Bronk
Little, Brown and Company
January 1, 1998

Belief in progress has been a central feature of Western thought since the Enlightenment, encouraged by apparently endless advances in scientific understanding and the exponential wonders of economic growth. But as the next millennium approaches, there is a deepening realization that high GNP growth, and the accelerating social and technological changes associated with it, are no longer matched by unambiguous improvement in the human condition.

Progress and the Invisible Hand begins by plotting the historical evolution of the modern idea of progress, stressing the importance of Adam Smith’s notion that the “invisible hand” of the free market can ensure that the simple pursued by individuals of their self-interest will spontaneously forge progress for society as a whole. It then focuses on contemporary strains in the two-hundred-year-old relationship between economic growth and advances in welfare, and explains why rising environmental and social costs, and the uncertainty and complexity of modern life, are increasingly casting doubt on the ability of the free market to generate human progress.

Questioning many of the basic assumptions behind rapid free-market deregulation in the had long search for economic growth, Richard Bronk argues that if the environment is to be safeguarded, poverty minimized and the worst excesses of the rat race avoided, there remains an overriding need for the free market to be supported by a strong framework of morality, social cohesion and rational government intervention. The book’s disquieting conclusion is that if we continue to destroy the necessary balance between social co-operation and freedom for individuals to pursue their own interests, the chances of continued human progress will be slim. Humanity will be left at the mercy of the market – condemned to be it slave rather than its master.

Richard Bronk, who has gained a wide expertise in international politics and economic affairs during his varied career, was born in New York and grew up in York, England. After acquiring a first-class honours degree in classics and philosophy at Merton College, Oxford, he trained as a financial analyst at the Bank of England. In the mid-1980s he became a pension fund manager in the City specializing in European equity markets, and from 1991 to 1995 was head of European equities at Baring Asset Management.

He is now working in the City on the economic and market implications of Monetary Union in Europe. He is married with two sons.