In Defense of Economic Growth

By Mangu-Ward, Katherine | Reason, December 2010 | Go to article overview

In Defense of Economic Growth


Mangu-Ward, Katherine, Reason


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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 spiked. 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? …

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