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Scepticism about economic growth is a reactionary, not a radical philosophy

Daniel Ben-Ami’s new book `Ferraris For All‘, published by the Policy
Press, is a great read. Ben-Ami’s point is to defend the idea of
economic development against the `growth sceptics’ who have emerged
in various blue, green and red guises recently.

What he does especially well is to point out how conservative,
how elitist and anti-aspirational, so many of the critics of
economic growth are. In a fascinating chapter he explores the way
in which the Left has abandoned the idea of progress, and turned

Nowadays it has reached the stage
where what passes for radical thinking is typically imbued with
deep social pessimism and hostility to economic growth.
Paradoxically, to the extent that any current is associated with
advocating prosperity, it is often the free market

Ben-Ami’s chapter on happiness research is especially
enlightening. He points out that not only are its basic empirical
assumptions deeply flawed — most people are happy, happiness does
correlate with prosperity and the paradox of mental illness
engendered by affluence is merely an artefact of steadily widening
definitions of mental illness – but its aims are reactionary and

The underlying message of the
happiness movement is deeply conservative: be happy with what you
have got. Such an outlook is entirely consistent with elitist
defence of privilege that characterises growth scepticism more

(I have always likedĀ Gregg Easterbrook‘s comment on happiness

Researching this book, and
thinking about the alternatives, has caused me to begin whispering
a regular prayer of thanks. Thank you that I and five hundred
million others are well-housed, well-supplied, over-fed, free and
not content; because we might be starving, wretched, locked under
tyranny, and equally not content.)

Ben-Ami ends with a powerful call to rehabilitate growth as a
goal for humanity:

Growth scepticism is in many
respects the opposite to what most of its supporters assume it to
be. They typically see it as humane, egalitarian, radical,
respectful of the environment and scornful of the obsession with
consumption in western societies. But it is inhumane, elitist,
conservative, misanthropic and more preoccupied with consumption
than anything else. If our great grandparents were alive today they
would be astonished by our lack of gratitude…

This is an important and original book.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  Uncategorized