A Note from Indur Goklany

by Don Boudreaux on August 18, 2014

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Growth, Standard of Living

Responding to this recent post, the great Indur Goklany sent the following to me by e-mail.  I post it in full with Indur’s kind permission.  (A short note from me follows.)

I would say that what matters most is not “living standards” but “quality of life”, and either matters more than income/wealth. [I recognize that "quality of life" is a subjective measure and, therefore, less amenable to quantitative analysis than "living standards", which can, for the most part, be measured indirectly.  In my lexicon, the term “well-being” embraces both “living standards” and “quality of life”.]  For the vast majority neither income nor wealth are ends in themselves; but they are desired because they provide them the wherewithal to afford a higher living standard and, more importantly, a higher “quality of life” [which I would equate to having the ability to live their own dreams rather than someone else's, no matter how well-intentioned that person or person's might be].

You may be interested in my take on this, summarized in The Globalization of Human Well-Being.  Its Executive Summary goes as follows:

“Controversy over globalization has focused mainly on whether it exacerbates income inequality between the rich and the poor. But, as opponents of globalization frequently note, human well-being is not synonymous with wealth. The central issue, therefore, is not whether income gaps are growing but whether globalization advances well-being and, if inequalities in well-being have expanded, whether that is because the rich have advanced at the expense of the poor.”

More direct measures of human well-being than per capita income include freedom from hunger, mortality rates, child labor, education, access to safe water, and life expectancy. Those indicators generally advance with wealth, because wealth helps create and provide the means to improve them. In turn, those improvements can stimulate economic growth by creating conditions conducive to technological change and increasing productivity. Thus, wealth, technological change, and well-being reinforce each other in a virtuous cycle of progress.

During the last half century, as wealth and technological change advanced worldwide, so did the well-being of the vast majority of the world’s population. Today’s average person lives longer and is healthier, more educated, less hungry, and less likely to have children in the work-force. Moreover, gaps in these critical measures of well-being between the rich countries and the middle- or low-income groups have generally shrunk dramatically since the mid-1900s irrespective of trends in income inequality. However, where those gaps have shrunk the least or even expanded recently, the problem is not too much globalization but too little.

The rich are not better off because they have taken something away from the poor; rather, the poor are better off because they benefit from the technologies developed by the rich, and their situation would have improved further had they been better able to capture the benefits of globalization. A certain level of global inequality may even benefit the poor as rich countries develop and invest in more expensive medicines and technologies that then become affordable to the poor.” [Emphasis added by Indur.]

I agree.

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