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Sachs Channels Gandhi

Here’s a letter to Les Echos (HT a French friend):

In “Need Versus Greed,” Jeffrey Sachs asserts that current market-based forces of economic growth are unleashing upon humanity a “calamity” of resource depletion and environmental destruction (March 1).  Unfortunately, Prof. Sachs views economic growth through a lens of Gandhian banalities.

On matters of economic growth, the late Julian Simon was far more insightful than was the late Mohandas Gandhi.  (What, really, does it mean for Gandhi to say “there is enough on Earth for everybody’s need, but not enough for everybody’s greed”?  Jingles aren’t analyses.)  Simon argued that, in markets that are at least reasonably free, resources are continually being discovered and created by human ingenuity – ingenuity powered by the drive for profit and guided by market prices which rise and fall in response to changes in patterns of consumer demands and to changes in resource supplies.

History overwhelmingly supports Simon’s thesis.  Despite two centuries of unprecedentedly high and sustained economic and population growth, supplies of nearly all resources are today greater than they were at the dawn of the industrial age, and the environments that human beings inhabit are immeasurably cleaner and healthier.  As a result, we are now living longer and in better health than ever before.

Why does Prof. Sachs suppose that recent upticks in the rates of economic growth of some Asian countries will reverse this 200-year-long process?

Donald J. Boudreaux

It really is a mystery why people such as Sachs believe that, having had 200-plus years of experience with high-growth capitalism – and its associated steady increase in resource supplies, living standards, population, and life-expectancy – humanity is somehow now finally on the verge of a “calamity.”  Surely if the incredible economic progress of the past two centuries has caused chiefly greater abundance, whatever increases in economic growth we are experiencing today are unlikely to be a problem.