The Public Interest

Economic policy and unemployment in the 1960’s

Edmund S. Phelps

Winter 1974

CERTAINLY it would be a mistake to interpret the experiments in governmental economic intervention made in the 1960s as a quantum change in the country’s theory of the role of government or its attitudes toward inequality and redistribution. From the times of Bentham and Bismarck to the New Deal and Fair Deal there has been increasing government intervention on behalf of various groups, including those that are poor or disadvantaged. The policies and programs begun in the past decade, mainly during the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson, are another important episode in that history. My own guess is that, to the extent that the 1960’s differ significantly from other periods of social change and experiment, they will be characterized by the widened assertion of various natural rights ahead of the public convenience, and even above equalitarian notions of fairness or “equity” in the distribution of economic benefits.

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