In Defense of Economic Growth

An interview with Ferraris for All author Daniel Ben-Ami

Daniel Ben-Ami, a London-based journalist, has covered economics and finance for two decades, contributing to such publications as The Guardian, The Independent, the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, and sp!ked. His new book, Ferraris for All (Policy Press), bills itself as “a defense of economic progress.” In it Ben-Ami makes the case that “contrary to the spirit of the times, more really is more, and less is less,” and he defends growth against the charges that it causes inequality and decreases happiness and environmental health. Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Ben-Ami by phone in September.

Q: Explain how wanting more stuff isn’t just about the stuff.

A: Clearly a central benefit of economic growth—more stuff—is the benefit to human welfare: greater longevity, lower infant mortality, later onset of chronic disease, higher intelligence, greater height, etc.

At the moment, any discussion of economics and prosperity focuses on consumption, and in particular on individual consumer goods. So when you say that economic output should rise and there should be economic growth, people interpret that to mean simply that we will have more stuff. I don’t think that’s a problem; I think that’s a good thing. But it’s not just a question of having more goods; it’s a question of having goods that we previously didn’t have access to. Back in the 1970s, people didn’t have access to a mobile phone. But through the process of growth and technological development, a lot of people in the world, many people in the Third World, now have access.

In addition to that, you have infrastructural developments. If you have more economic growth, you can afford more schools. I see economic growth as very closely linked to scientific and technological developments, and also as giving us the ability to control and reshape the environment to benefit humanity.

Q: Why aren’t you concerned about inequality?

A: China has grown much more rapidly than the U.S., so you can say that’s a narrowing of inequality. But at the same time, part of that process is for inequalities within China to widen. There is no definitive answer to the question of whether global inequality is widening or narrowing. It depends on what you measure.

What is really important in the inequality debate is not so much the measurement but the redefinition of inequality. Dealing with inequality used to be about improving the material condition of the poorest people, but it’s been completely redefined. Previously you wanted to have material developments in Third World countries so that they became as rich as the rich countries. That was the aspiration. Whereas now it is discussed in therapeutic terms: It’s very much about the self-esteem of ordinary people in the Third World.

Q: The left was once pro-growth, but now people on the left tend to be what you call “growth skeptics.” What happened?

A: Historically, the aim of the left was to bring about social progress and to get rid of capitalism and to have some kind of socialist society. There were huge debates within the left about what constituted socialism, but there was a broad conception that we could have a prosperous, better, more progressive society. The more that project recedes into the distance, the more the left moves toward views typically associated with the conservative right, with Malthus and with the reaction to the Enlightenment. You now have a situation where those people who would think of themselves as radical are typically among the most conservative, anti-growth people. That’s the paradox.

The idea that people in the developing world shouldn’t aspire to have more, that they should basically give up on trying to better themselves, that they should just be happy with the way things are and not try to change things, is a deeply conservative outlook.

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  • Realist ||

    The right isn't real big on defending growth either.

  • ||

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  • seguin||

    Did the bot writing this die in the middle of typing?

  • ||

    With any luck? YES

  • ||

    The traditional left never gave anything but lip service to the notion of economic development, it was always egalitarianism in the 'leveler' sense.

    The traditional right never gave a damn about economic development either, just so long as they personally got richer and the 'right people' stayed on top.

    Only the classical liberals wanted economic development, which they saw as concommitant with personal liberty.

  • ||

    where is the rest of this article?

  • ||

    +1

  • ||

    +1

  • ||

    Do you think it's possible to over-simply this debate into an even more twiggy battle of the straw men?

    The guy actually went book-length with this crapola? "Democrats are from Walden; Republicans are from Levittown!" Get the 'stache in here so somebody can say "Give Me a Break!"

    So, let me guess: we are going to make this planet a comfortable place for 9 billion people via sneaker factories in Laos while taking our atmospheric CO2 up to 450 ppm, right? What a great plan. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Realist ||

    More AGW bullshit!

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Or... You know... through wealth & innovation we can (and have) found ways to produce billions of pairs of shoes while reducing the net environmental impact per shoe. But uh... It's not exactly just about shoes, is it? It's also about producing enough so that the people in Laos can also cope with any effects of not just changes in climate, but also in just about anything.

  • Global Warmer||

    It took global warming on a massive scale for Homo Sapiens to move from primitive, hunter-gatherer warring tribes to agriculture and trade.

    Global warming increases plant and animal diversity, the amount of agricultural output and overall human comfort (we are evolved to thrive in a hot savanna climate, not to efficiently survive winters in temperate climates)

    Go global warming, I don't want to experience another winter with temperatures below freezing ever again! And I think those poor guys living in Siberia are kind of sick of those -50C temperatures as well.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Speaking from a cold house... ^this^

  • JoshINHB||

    Bullshit

    Antarctica is the environmental ideal.

  • barry||

    450 ppm would be great! Considering that plants die below 140 ppm, and thrive at even 1300 ppm or more, i'd say we'd do best to increase our CO2 levels... Having 1200+ ppm didnt seem to stop the dinosaurs from being big bastards.

  • Anomalous||

    Besides, the major greenhouse gas is H2O. And yet the green weenies want hydrogen cars?

  • ||

    Explain how wanting more stuff isn’t just about the stuff.

    In the mind of your typical "Chad" stuff is, in and of itself, a discrete evil.

    The overwhelming majority of people do not want "stuff" for its own sake. They want a better, easier, more convenient and enjoyable life; the stuff they covet helps to satisfy that want.

    For example, I am not "addicted to oil" because I want to fill my bathtub with it and splash around; I am addicted to modern technology, which currently requires fossil fuels and petroleum -based energy. When (not if) a better energy source is found, I will drop "oil" like a hot rock.

  • ||

    True, although, I think sometimes people do get fixated just on wanting more stuff (keeping up with the Jones etc).

    Often times this crowds out other activities (time with friends family) that might actually make them happier.

    Not saying that's not their right to choose how to spend their time.

    But I am saying that our connumerism culture might not always result in the best outcome.

  • cynical||

    The solution to that is cultural, however, not political.

  • ||

    Overall agreed, except to the extend that current political policies encourage it.

    For example zoning regulations that prevent mixed use housing, thus forcing people to live a long ways away from work.

  • Realist ||

    So it's OK if I start a rock crushing business next door to you???

  • ||

    If you own the land then why the hell not?

  • Realist ||

    You assholes are stupid! It would make your land useless.

  • ||

    Only to the guy who hates rocks and crushing...

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Are the residential streets going to accommodate your heavy machinery? Doubt it...

    Are the neighbors going to file noise complaints every single day, costing you time & money constantly? Yep.

    Is there even going to be enough space available in a single residential lot that would be big enough to use for your business? Uh... No.

    You honestly believe the only thing preventing businesses from putting some giant, obnoxious, heavy-machinery laden outpost in the middle of your neighborhood is zoning laws?

    Pick a sane example next time, troll.

  • ||

    Also note that the example I noted was aimed at cities etc that prevent people from living in commerial/industrial disctricts that WANT too.

    I mean why not put apartments over a Walmart?

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Indeed, why not? I actually think it would be one of the funniest things of all time to see a Wal-Mart as the ground floor of a luxury condo building. Not that that would happen... Luxury condos only get Whole Foods & Trader Joe's on their ground floors, where allowed. But it would be goddamn funny.

  • Realist ||

    Who you calling a troll dick breath?
    The other dick breath, Kroneborge, said "For example zoning regulations that prevent mixed use housing, thus forcing people to live a long ways away from work." He is bitching about zoning as you shit heads did about a month ago. You fucks are still stupid!

  • Sean W. Malone||

    ^troll^

  • seguin||

    I know a guy here in Dallas who's got a good amount of machining tools in his garage and does cheap jobs on the side...no one's the wiser.

    It works. Viva Houston, amirite?

  • ||

    True, although, I think sometimes people do get fixated just on wanting more stuff (keeping up with the Jones etc).

    While I believe that there is some miniscule portion of the population for whom shopping has some pathological content, I think that this particular idea is incorrect.

    What is often cited as 'keeping up with the Joneses' is usually nothing more than a neighbor recommending a product/service or observationally seeing that said product/service will be useful to you as well.

    The disparaging sentiment behind the 'keeping up with the Joneses' comments is rooted in class envy and suggesting that there is some nobility in being unable/unwilling to provide for oneself.

  • JoshINHB||

    The deep roots of this and much of leftist ideology is the Christian idea of original sin.

    Ironic isn't it.

  • Realist ||

    "But I am saying that our connumerism culture might not always result in the best outcome." Just what the fuck does that mean??? Did you ever try this sober???

  • LarryA||

    Often times this crowds out other activities (time with friends family) that might actually make them happier.

    Right on. Let’s go back to the time before “consumerism,” when “time with friends and family” was spent thatching your roof, grubbing for food, and shoveling horse manure as a substitute for walking everywhere.

  • ||

    "be happy with the way things are and not try to change things, is a deeply conservative outlook."

    Bullshit.

    Conservatism is mostly focused on conserving social norms etc, NOT conseving people into a stone age lifestyle economically.

    In fact part of that conserving is usually related to preserving the rights of economic freedom (sadly not so much on social freedom).

  • ||

    Agreed, I think the author missed the mark by a mile with that comment. Conservatives want economic freedom, as long as it doesn't interfere with their desire for certain moral norms, i.e a porn shop next to a school.

  • ||

    Or a mosque next to a certain monument.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    A certain hole in the ground you mean?

  • seguin||

    It may have something to do with being London-based. Conservatism over there might not involve preserving economic freedom as it does (supposedly) here.

  • ||

    So, let me guess: we are going to make this planet a comfortable place for 9 billion people via sneaker factories in Laos while taking our atmospheric CO2 up to 450 ppm, right? What a great plan.

    Have you got a better one? Let's hear it. I should warn you, though: shutting down international capital flows and raising the price of energy are unlikely to make this planet a comfortable place for anyone other than the rent-seekers who will enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

  • ||

    I think at least part of the plan would be shifting of taxes away from one based on income to one based on carbon/consumption.

    From the US perspective this would also level the playing field for our products with our countries.

    For example, if sell a American widget to another country it has the costs of Employer portions of payroll taxes baked into COGS. But when buying imports this isn't there, giving a competive advanatge based solely on tax policy.

    Same could be said for carbon.

    Note I'm not suggesting increasing the tax burden, but by switching it from labor to consumption, you would get a lot of benefit, both for the US, and I think globally as well (if part of it was carbon based).

    Either way, I think there will be a lot of problems as the world struggles to provide for 9 b people. Both on the resource side, and on the pollution side.

  • Realist ||

    "From the US perspective this would also level the playing field for our products with our countries." Just what the fuck does that mean???

  • ||

    It means that our products have a higher COGS than they would otherwise because we have embeded taxes in them that imports don't have.

    Payroll taxes add close to 8% to the cost of an item. This puts domestic goods at disadvantage against imports. It also puts our exports at a disadvantge. Because again that cost is stuck with the goods. Unlike a VAT or sales tax that is not stuck with exports, or that treats all domestic goods and importats the same.

  • Realist ||

    "This puts domestic goods at disadvantage against imports." What puts our goods at a disadvantage is the god damn high wages and other benefits the union workers get in this country.

  • ||

    Both good points. That doesn't mean changing the tax structure won't help. 8% is still a signficant price difference.

  • JoshINHB||

    It means that our products have a higher COGS than they would otherwise because we have embeded taxes in them that imports don't have.

    Payroll taxes add close to 8% to the cost of an item.

    The aggregate of government regulations adds many times that level of cost to good produced here.

  • ||

    agreed.

    Some of that government regulation is probably justified, I'm sure quite a bit is not.

  • ||

    I will take an Italia 458 in old school green.

  • qualir||

    In fact, the previous calculation vastly underestimates the amount of exploration
    that remains to be done because mixtures can be made of more than four elements,
    fractional proportions can be selected, and a wide variety of pressures and
    temperatures can be used during mixing.

  • BWM||

    Nonsense; the left push socialism and growth and a "scientifically run economy" because they were foolish. They bought and bought it right up until they started seeing the pictures of the Holocaust, of the "scientific" genocide they inadvertantly supported. Any doubts that remained were gradually destroyed over the decades as more and more information leaked out of a starving and brutal Soviet Russia. The left either had to drop their goal of state control, or find some way to spin the now irrefutable downsides of it; they decided on the latter, and suddenly the system of wild growth and prosperity was now all about forgoing growth to focus on social justice and trying to control the weather.

  • ||

    Bummer.

    I thought I was going to get a Ferrari.

    But I'll "settle" for a Maserati.

  • shiroi neko||

    Ok, i got that.

  • nike shoes UK||

    is good

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