The World Needs Economic Growth to Progress

Source: NYTimes, Dec 2015

The Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich has been arguing for decades that we must slow both population and consumption growth. When I talked to him on the phone a few months ago, he quoted the economist Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

… the proposition of no growth has absolutely no chance to succeed. For all the many hundreds of years humanity survived without growth, modern civilization could not. The trade-offs that are the daily stuff of market-based economies simply could not work in a zero-sum world.

Economic development was indispensable to end slavery. It was a critical precondition for the empowerment of women.

Indeed, democracy would not have survived without it. As Martin Wolf, the Financial Times commentator has noted, the option for everybody to become better off — where one person’s gain needn’t require another’s loss — was critical for the development and spread of the consensual politics that underpin democratic rule.

Zero growth gave us Genghis Khan and the Middle Ages, conquest and subjugation. It fostered an order in which the only mechanism to get ahead was to plunder one’s neighbor. Economic growth opened up a much better alternative: trade.

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