Saturday, March 11, 2006

Economic Growth is Good

Of course economic growth is good, in some sense of the word. Nwe jobs are created, wealth is created, and opportunity is created. Layoffs and big corporate bankruptcies are not so bad, if the economy is growing and able to absorb the newly unemployed. Economic growth also generates resources that we can use to improve our quality of life.

Economic growth causes concern among social activists and environmental activists. That much you probably knew already. Clearly, economic growth does not benefit peole equally. The rich seem to get richer and the poor and middle class are lucky to stay where they are. At least that is the perception of some social critics. Economic growth also results in (notice I didn't say "causes") pollution.

In spite of those problems, most of us have no problem with the idea of economic growth. Maybe it's because we don't know what else could be done. Maybe because we feel powerless to stop the train and get off. Maybe we are just willing to accept the problems and try to get some of the benefits for ourselves. Maybe we are just to busy to concern ourselves with the issue.

Well, if you've read this far you must be interested in the issue. So, for now I have one thing to share with you. That one thing is a mandatory (for a sociologist) list of the social functions performed by the prevailing belief in economic growth:

1. Getting and and distributing resources - more mining, trains, roads, expansion of our infrastructure, e-commerce, and more
2. Social progress - provision of more and better goods and services to more people, especially in the areas of physical security, health, and safety
3. Meeting needs - specifically the resource needs of a growing population, but also their needs for all sorts of goods and services

Belief in the idea of economic growth helps us maintain the efforts needed to do each of those things. If we lose interest in economic growth, the infrastructure doesn't get better, the new goods and services stop flowing, and we run short of things we need to provide for our growing population.

Whoa! (sound of needle being dragged across a record...) The premise that we need economic growth to have those things is not valid.

Why not, you ask? I'll tell you next time.


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