Miserable Rich Bastards


Via Arts & Letters Daily comes yet another interesting piece from Sp!ked, a site worth reading on a daily, even hourly basis. This one is by Daniel Ben-Ami and it takes on anti-economic growth fetishists.

Ben-Ami reviews a new book, Growth Fetish, by Australian Clive Hamilton in which Hamilton rails against growth and all the problems it causes–and fails to fix. Writes Ben-Ami,

A more likely cause of unhappiness is the miserabilist character of contemporary debate—a miserabilism that Hamilton is part of. His downbeat view that economic growth is unsustainable and the cause of misery has become something of a consensus today. There is a widespread pessimism towards progress, and a tendency to worry about the downsides of development….

Far from being characterised by a growth fetish, contemporary society is defined by low expectations about what is possible, and anxiety about possible side-effects of progress. Any attempt to strive for a better life is likely to be viewed with scorn and perhaps even presented as dangerous. Yet economic growth is a central part of human progress. The main problem today is that more growth is needed to help the world's population overcome the scourge of scarcity.

Whatever people's subjective sense of wellbeing, there remains a huge amount to be done to raise living standards, even in the more developed countries. For instance, we are constantly being told that there is a demographic problem that means that the elderly cannot expect a reasonable standard of living. But with greater economic growth it will become possible for the elderly and others not able to work to have higher living standards.

In addition to allowing people to have more consumer goods—including the flat-screen televisions that Hamilton likes to sneer at—growth has other potential benefits, such as allowing greater free time. Money might not make you happy, but it can give you the time and means to find out what does.

Ben-Ami's own 2001 book, Cowardly Capitalism, looks damn interesting, too. Read the Amazon page about it here.