Ms. Deborah Orr

Umm, yes

But the idea of perpetual economic growth, even if it can be massaged back to life in the short term, has had its day. Even if it were sustainable on its own terms, it would still annihilate us. Just over 160 years ago, John Stuart Mill was musing on the possibility of the \”stationary state\”, warning that the consequence of unlimited growth could only be environmental destruction and a reduced quality of life. \”It is only in the backward countries of the world that increased production is still an important object,\” he wrote. \”In those most advanced, what is economically needed is a better distribution.\”

Marvellous though the old boy was even Homer nodded.

Nordhaus brackets the growth of real wages over the past century as somewhere between a 20-fold and a 100-fold increase. Alan Greenspan … has suggested adjustments of the statistics that lead to an estimate of a 30-fold increase of material wealth over the past century. (DeLong 2001)

That seems a reasonably elegant destruction of the idea that more growth was impossible or undesirable after the old boy\’s death in 1873.

Just as a test, is there anyone at all out there who would be willing (even if we take the lower number there) to live on one twentieth of their current real wages? That is, if you currently earn £50,000, then you have only £2,500 a year, if the median wage of around £20,000, then only £1,000 a year: and yes, prices stay as they are now?

Even if we had that better distribution, a perfect one even, would we be happy with an economy where GDP per capita was around £1,200 pa? A little above Vanuatu, a little below Armenia today?

Anyone who argues against us all living at such standards is of course implicitly (at the very least) acknowledging the value of economic growth.

Even the High Priest of happiness research, Richard Layard, tells us that up to £15,000 makes us happier so yes, economic growth has even made us happier.

7 comments on “Ms. Deborah Orr

  1. Surely the question isn’t about salaries but about technology and the other benefits of growth? What you should really be asking is there anyone out there who would go without the benefits of medicines, cars, washing machines, electricity etc?

    As you have often said, back to hoeing the fields to scratch a living isn’t very appealing.

  2. @TGS

    They are the same thing. Greater levels of technology give us more efficient (in both time and material inputs) processes and allow us to lower prices and raise wages.

  3. sconzey:

    You’re exactly correct but it should be added that the mechanism spreading around the fruits of advancement is (for both prices and wages) competition .

    In human society, competiton achieves social cooperation w/o conflict; wherever there are interferences with competiton, there will conflicts arise which only violence or threat of such can remedy. The potential for peaceful
    cooperation is due primarily to the inherent INEQUALITY between individuals and the intensification of such inequality through culture, education, and specialization of effort.
    Were people equally endowed (or as equal as
    the Left choose–in the face of all available evidence of experience and science–to insist),
    no peace would be possible except as mandated
    by something resembling a soviet-style system
    of all-round dictatorship.

  4. I’ve an idea. Perhaps Deborah Orr (and other green slime) can have the same standard of living as most people did 200 years ago. Shortly after, when they have died of something, the rest of us can get on in peace and earn a living.

  5. The technology and other benefits of growth are already in the growth statistics in the main (the bits that aren’t are behind the recent Stiglitz paper)

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