As economies strive to regain momentum after Covid 19, should growth of Gross National Product, as a national goal, be limited by stopping certain types of development?
Below are five initiatives against uncontrolled growth.
Costs of growth to a community can exceed the benefits to the developer. Governments should prevent a few people benefiting from development at the expense of others who have no legal redress. Winner-take-all is a development game won by wealth. Legislation is required to fully compensate losers. See: Does Growth Benefit Some Groups At An Equivalent Cost To Others? M P Knox 2020.
A steady state economy is the sustainable alternative to perpetual economic growth. Responding to an increasingly constrained world, the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy has policy goals of stabilized population and consumption.
Growth could be opposed. Disillusionment with societal development by technological and industrial systems has created interest in overthrowing it by popular revolution. See: Industrial Society and Its Future, Theodore Kaczynski, 1995.
Instead of setting happiness goals that would inspire their citizens, governments fix on GDP growth and increase in wealth. It is proposed that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a suitable template for government actions to achieve real happiness. See: A Plea For New National Goals That Inspire. M P Knox 2020.
Happiness Alliance’s mission is to improve the happiness, well-being, and sustainability of all beings on our earth. It has sought the replacement of GNP by Gross National Happiness as in the nation of Bhutan.
Control of growth could consider four other concerns.
Jobs and Happiness
Whenever a development is touted, the number of jobs to be created is stated first. Public perception of developments has favoured the creation of still more jobs when there has been near full employment. A surplus of jobs has choice: occupation, income, social status, sociality location that people value. People’s ultimate happiness’s vary: hedonism, eudemonia, flow and spiritualism are the main types. A person’s job defines the types of happiness achievable and what he or she will strive for. Thus the value of growth is partly the summation of employees’ happiness’s. Jobs that reward merely with income for superficial hedonism would be inferior to those bringing higher quality happiness.
Growth should be sustainable
When demand increases there can be growth in supply, or a chain of supply. The chains go back to primary production from natural resources, which may be abundant or possibly scarce and unsustainable. The supply chains often employ people in permanent jobs. Attractiveness of growth in a chain of supply depends on the overall multiplier effect, measured as the increase in GNP (including remuneration paid) or counted in jobs created.
Increased supply of cotton grown for export from Australia would employ few extra workers, require few supplies, take scarce land and water and devalue incomes in other sectors (Gregory Thesis).
The best growth is at the end of a long and variegated supply chain, with its output value added to by further local processing. It doesn’t matter whether the goods are machinery or fashion accessories, because the happiness generated depends on employment quantity and quality created. Growth from mining of non-renewable resources using scarce water, with low employment and loading them unprocessed into ships, could be turned down as of low benefit to the community.
Individuals and the Public Good
Adam Smith proposed that supply of goods to market buyers was all the public welfare society needed. Jeremy Bentham wanted the greatest good of the greatest number. In welfare economics, the public good is decided with money amounts. A development was good if the benefits exceeded the costs and whether the winners could compensate the losers, or perhaps the losers could pay-off the winners.
But in practice there are wider considerations in deciding whether to approve a development. Monetary gain, utility, resources use efficiency, humanitarian concerns and environmental impact all affect computation of growth. Keynesian priming of economic project ‘pumps’ with low value public works could be turned down if they do not overcome these concerns. Growth by digging holes and filling them in again should be turned down.
Personal goals and achievement
John Stuart Mill put responsibility for growth on individuals, who pursued liberty within the confines of societal laws required to protect other individuals. Simone De Beauvoir in her book The Ethics of Ambiguity has explained that true freedom cannot be obtained by walking over others’ freedoms. Growth that takes away individuals’ freedoms should be turned down.
In conclusion, growth should be regarded with rational scepticism as a sectoral interest. Cargo cults and cranes on the horizon are ideologies of past times and have no place in the present or future.