The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life

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The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life

By Barry Schwartz
W. W. Norton & Company, 1994
393 pp. $25.00

This book, written by an academic psychologist, can be categorized as "left-wing communitarian." Schwartz argues that the expansion of market relationships and the profit motive into all aspects of American social life during the Reagan-Bush "decade of greed" has destroyed the communal solidarities of family, neighborhood, and workplace that characterized earlier American social history. This account is correct in pointing to the potentially atomizing consequences of capitalism, but gives far too much weight to specific developments of the 1980s. The overall argument would be much more convincing if the author showed any awareness of the ways in which the liberal expansion of rights by the courts and federal government had an equal if not more pervasively destructive impact on America's organic communities. His solutions -- such as renewed vigor for religious communities -- indicate the contradictions of a position that wants to reconcile strong moral community with universal tolerance.

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