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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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June 30, 2003

My opinion of Ross Gittens has been changing. The Gittens fellow is writing some good iconoclastic stuff about economics that reflects some solid thinking. The latest is a beauty and deserves wide circulation.

In this one he addresss the battle between the proponents and the opponents of economic growth, a theme close to the heart of public opinion. This weblog has argued that the appropriate policy response to the crisis of the Murray-Darling river system is a substantive commitment by the liberal state to ecologically sustainable development. Despite the talk about environmental flows, salinity and a cap on land clearing little has happened to question wealth creation as the policy goal.

So what does Gittens say? I'll spell it out as the article will eventually drop out. Ross says:

"The commitment to growth - "rising living standards" - is so nearly universal among our businesspeople, economists and politicians that it's tempting to dismiss the anti-growth push as a one-week wonder.But I think that would be a mistake...I think it could become the major ideological battleground of the coming years."

That is pretty close to being right. Gittens, however, gives quality of life reasons as the main reason:

"Why? ...Because the rise of economic rationalism has made capitalism turbo-charged and overdone.Everyone used to be fairly laid-back in their pursuit of the good life but now we're surrounded by people with whips. Our bosses whip us because they live in fear of the sharemarket's whip. In the micro-reformed economy, the unceasing cry is More! More! Faster! Faster! Is it so hard to believe that one day a lot of people may start asking . . . why?

That's good. People are asking just that around the nation. Why live a life of being overexploited, stressed out and underpaid? But Gittens goes further. He says:

"The intellectual case against growth is building up on two fronts: the environmentalists on one side and the psychologists and renegade economists on the other."

He rightly says the green's case is one in which:

"...we simply can't go on chewing up natural resources, generating waste and destroying eco-systems at the rate we are."

And the psychologist's challenge to economic growth arising from their burgeoning study of happiness:

'Once a country's material living standard passes a certain minimal level, the psychologists simply can't find a correlation between economic growth and "subjective wellbeing". Nor do they find that the rich are notably happier than the poor.'

Many find these challenges to economic growth (ie., wealth creation and rising living standards) as the policy goal and the end of human existence so threatening and dangerous. Gittens says:

"For most of us, the pursuit of growth and material advance is the organising principle for our world view. It's the object of the exercise, determining the role of government and the way economies should be managed. More to the point, for many of us the pursuit of income and material gain is the organising principle for our lives. We can't imagine how we'd hold the show together without it."

Gitten's asks us to start thinking about making economic growth the goal of life.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:07 PM | | Comments (0)