Is economic growth moral?
Considering 5 claims against growth

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Article Highlights

  • Is economic growth moral? We consider 5 claims against growth.

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  • Economic growth is the key to lifting societies from dire poverty to prosperity. Learn more!

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  • The evidence is clear that economic growth contributes fundamentally to poverty reduction.

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Is economic growth moral?
Considering 5 claims against growth

CLAIM:

Economic growth does more harm than good.

Economic growth is the key to lifting societies from dire poverty to prosperity. Growth can raise the poor out of poverty, improve the lives of the rich, and help nations avoid intergenerational conflicts and the deprivations of fiscal crises. Moreover, growth provides nations with the means and interest to protect the environment and to cultivate a more vibrant, humane civilization.

CLAIM:

Economic growth causes income inequality that hurts the poor.

In rich and poor countries alike, economic growth raises absolute income for all income groups and reduces the extent of absolute poverty. For the first time in nearly 500 years, global income distribution is actually improving. Global distribution of economic goods (highly correlated with income) means that global inequality in life expectancy, educational attainment, health, and infant mortality is falling.

CLAIM:

Economic growth harms the environment and is not sustainable.

It is possible to have simultaneous economic growth and environmental improvement — poverty is actually a key cause of environmental degradation. While some kinds of pollution do increase as economies grow, researchers have found that at higher levels of income, people care more about the environment.

CLAIM:

Economic growth cultivates harmful personal attitudes of materialism and consumerism.

While materialistic, consumerist behavior is worth critiquing, neither markets nor economic growth requires that people act in such a way. There is a connection in market economies between growth and moral goods such as social trust, honesty, compassion, and taking responsibility for one's self and one's family.

CLAIM:

Market economies ignore the needs of the poor.

The evidence is clear that economic growth contributes fundamentally to poverty reduction. Since the 1970s, we have seen declines in global income inequality, along with dramatic improvements in education, health, and life expectancy worldwide. Economic growth can simultaneously help the poor and better equip the rest of society to help them.

 


Based on Economic Growth: Unleashing the Potential of Human Flourishing by Edd S. Noell, Stephen L. S. Smith, and Bruce G. Webb
   
What do you think?
Email [email protected] with questions and comments.
Learn more at www.aei.org/economicgrowth

This article was originally published on April 23, 2013.

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