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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 40 of my colleague Tyler Cowen’s newly published Stubborn Attachments (2018) (footnote deleted):

Looking into the more distant future makes the question of the economic growth rate all the more important. For instance, a two-percent rate of economic growth, as opposed to a one-percent rate, makes only a small difference across the time horizon of a single year. But as time passes, the higher growth rate eventually brings about a very large boost to well-being. To make this concrete, here’s an experiment: redo U.S. history, but assume the country’s economy had grown one percentage point less each year between 1870 and 1990. In that scenario, the United States of 1990 would be no richer than Mexico in 1990.

DBx: Only those people who enjoy a very large amount, by historical standards, of material prosperity can afford to question the value of material prosperity and to ridicule policies that promote economic growth. Ridiculing economic growth and the policies that make it possible is, ironically, what economists call a “luxury good”: a good the demand for which increases more than proportionally to increases in income.

As with first-growth Bordeauxs, Mercedes sedans, vacations to Tahiti, and other luxury goods, not every high-income person has a demand for criticisms of economic growth – a demand either to issue these criticisms or to hear them sympathetically. But almost no truly low-income person has a demand for such criticisms.

Here’s another irony: economic growth enables all of us who experience it – even those amongst us who seem to be the most crass of materialists – to pursue and consume ‘higher,’ non-materialistic experiences and enjoyments. Spending a relaxing summer week with your children on Cape Cod; reading all of the works of Milton or Molière or Mises; visiting art museums; financially supporting the Sierra Club or PETA (or GMU Econ!); going on eco-adventure vacations; traveling to the likes of Seattle or Shanghai to join in protests against globalization and economic growth. (Don’t forget: we today in the rich countries are extraordinarily fortunate to have the luxury of worrying about climate change.)

One of the many splendid features of economic growth is that it gives to each individual the opportunity to choose just how much of his or her materialism will be low and crass and how much will be elevated and sublime. When I vegetate mindlessly in front of my television as I devour potato chips and watch telecasts of muscular young men brutally bash each other up on American football fields, my neighbor is not thereby prevented from going to church, to the opera, or to a book-club meeting to discuss The Handmaid’s Tale.


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