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The Third Pillar

How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind
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Shortlisted for the Financial Times/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 

From one of the most important economic thinkers of our time, a brilliant and far-seeing analysis of the current populist backlash against globalization.

Raghuram Rajan, distinguished University of Chicago professor, former IMF chief economist, head of India's central bank, and author of the 2010 FT-Goldman-Sachs Book of the Year Fault Lines, has an unparalleled vantage point onto the social and economic consequences of globalization and their ultimate effect on our politics. In The Third Pillar, he offers up a magnificent big-picture framework for understanding how these three forces - the state, markets, and our communities - interact, why things begin to break down, and how we can find our way back to a more secure and stable plane. 

The "third pillar" of the title is the community we live in. Economists all too often understand their field as the relationship between markets and the state, and they leave squishy social issues for other people. That's not just myopic, Rajan argues; it's dangerous. All economics is actually socioeconomics - all markets are embedded in a web of human relations, values, and norms. As he shows, throughout history, technological phase shifts have ripped the market out of those old webs and led to violent backlashes, and to what we now call populism. Eventually, a new equilibrium is reached, but it can be ugly and messy, especially if done wrong. 

Right now, we're doing it wrong. As markets scale up, the state scales up with it, concentrating economic and political power in flourishing central hubs and leaving the periphery to decompose, figuratively and even literally. Instead, Rajan offers a way to rethink the relationship between the market and civil society and argues for a return to strengthening and empowering local communities as an antidote to growing despair and unrest. Rajan is not a doctrinaire conservative, so his ultimate argument that decision-making has to be devolved to the grass roots or our democracy will continue to wither is sure to be provocative. But even setting aside its solutions, The Third Pillar is a masterpiece of explication, an audiobook that will be a classic of its kind for its offering of a wise, authoritative, and humane explanation of the forces that have wrought such a sea change in our lives.

©2019 Raghuram Rajan (P)2019 Penguin Audio


“Raghuram Rajan has done it again. Fresh, insightful and engaging, The Third Pillar offers a brilliant reckoning with one of today’s most important and potentially crippling challenges. He does more than analyze the unbalance that has developed among the three pillars that support society; he also tells us what’s needed to shift our prospects in favor of the exciting upside of technological progress that empowers, enables and enriches the many; and away from political anger, alienation and political radicalization. His clear and compelling case goes well beyond protecting the vulnerable. It’s also, critically, about enhancing the whole.” (Mohamed El-Erian, author of When Markets Collide and The Only Game in Town)

“My parents lived through the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism, and World War II. I thought I was brought up in a world organized in a fundamentally different way. I was wrong. We all need to start thinking about this issue right now and this book is a place to begin.” (James A. Robinson, professor, University of Chicago, coauthor of Why Nations Fail

“Few economists span the worlds of policy and scholarship with such distinction as Raghu Rajan, and fewer still have been so consistently right about the wrong turns the world economy has taken. In his latest book, Rajan reminds us of the importance of local communities - the social ties that bind those who live in close geographical proximity. We need to strike a balance not just between state and market, he argues, but also between these two and community. Rajan presents a bold, original vision that significantly advances our contemporary debate on the ills of democracies and moves it onto new terrain.” (Dani Rodrik, professor, Harvard University, author of The Globalization Paradox

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