Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth"

In Sunday's New York Times, Gregg Easterbrook had this review, "The Capitalist Manifesto", of Benjamin Friedman's book, "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth."  Here is the intro:

ECONOMIC growth has gotten a bad name in recent decades - seen in many quarters as a cause of resource depletion, stress and sprawl, and as an excuse for pro-business policies that mainly benefit plutocrats. Some have described growth as a false god: after all, the spending caused by car crashes and lawsuits increases the gross domestic product. One nonprofit organization, Redefining Progress, proposes tossing out growth as the first economic yardstick and substituting a "Genuine Progress Indicator" that, among other things, weighs volunteer work as well as the output of goods and services. By this group's measure, American society peaked in 1976 and has been declining ever since. Others think ending the fascination with economic growth would make Western life less materialistic and more fulfilling. Modern families "work themselves to exhaustion to pay for stuff that sits around not being used," Thomas Naylor, a professor emeritus of economics at Duke University, has written. If economic growth were no longer the goal, there would be less anxiety and more leisurely meals.

But would there be more social justice? No, says Benjamin Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard University, in "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth." Friedman argues that economic growth is essential to "greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy." During times of expansion, he writes, nations tend to liberalize - increasing rights, reducing restrictions, expanding benefits for the needy. During times of stagnation, they veer toward authoritarianism. Economic growth not only raises living standards and makes liberal social policies possible, it causes people to be optimistic about the future, which improves human happiness. "It is simply not true that moral considerations argue wholly against economic growth," Friedman contends. Instead, moral considerations argue that large-scale growth must continue at least for several generations, both in the West and the developing world.



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