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Is faster economic growth good for improving long-run outcomes for humanity?

Kent_Brockman          3 July 2015 01:37 AM

The implicit premise of most conversations about the economy is that increased near-term economic growth is good. For example, people argue in favor of stimulus if they believe it will be good for the economy, and against it if they believe it will be bad for the economy (on a time scale of the next 50-100 years). But the universe consists of billions of stars, and these stars are going to be around for millions of years. So from a utilitarian perspective it might be sensible to weight whatever happens to the planets orbiting these stars much more heavily than anything that happens on Earth in the next 50-100 years. Thus my question: is accelerating near-term economic growth a good thing or a bad thing when viewed from this perspective?

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melian 3 July 2015 09:24 AM

It is hard to predict the future, but I think the attempts to halt the economic growth for the sake of planet conservation are bound to fail. Any democratic government that seriously tries it will lose power after one term in the office. Moreover, it is insufficient to get only some countries on board with this policy. Even if one country defects, in the long term, its economy would overtake all others. The only way to halt the global economic growth is by uniting all countries into a single totalitarian state or by exterminating the humanity. Good or bad, continuing pro-growth policies seems inevitable.


Kent_Brockman 3 July 2015 11:14 AM

Good points, but answering the original question could still be useful. For example, if Omnilibrium users have some hot idea for accelerating economic growth, would it be wise to publish it and popularize it?


melian 3 July 2015 12:02 PM

That’s a good question, but I don’t have a sufficiently good answer.

In the short term, the effects of the economic growth are positive. On the time-scale of 50-100 year, the effects are unknown (people are very bad at predicting so far into the future). So, I guess I would probably answer “yes”.


DanielLC 11 July 2015 02:04 PM

You need capital to build capital. This results in exponential growth. What happens on Earth now isn't intrinsically all that important, but if we can build a good economy now, it will help later. It's sort of like how having more workers at the beginning of an RTS can ensure victory, even though there's little actual fighting until the end.

That being said, most of what we produce is pretty worthless in the long run. Also, I've looked at a lot of GDP curves, and many of them seem to be more linear than exponential. I'm sure there are other measures that would be more useful.


Fwiffo 6 July 2015 05:31 AM

If that it is good is wrong that doesn't make that it is bad right.

It generally fails in that GDP isn't a perfect (or arguably even a good) proxy for our values. There isn't that much of a problem when you measure two things that mainly deal within GDP against each other but when you compare "tangible" GDP things against "intangible" non-GDP things. Homo Economicus would only preserve nature to the extent that it is neccesary to keep exploiting it but in practise we give a non-dimisnish weight on how our living affects the nature.

It is also a tricky question because a lot of things that aren't GDP centric can end up being GDP boosters. For example doing pure maths might enable more applied math to be easier. Thus someone that looks what number gioes up everytime that something good happens might point out that GDP has that property. However it migth not be because of it but be indicative of progress in general. That is if someone buts a lot of money in theorethical math in hopes of GDP returns it doesn't prove that doing things for the economy boost makes things good even if the impact of the act ends up being good.

I would focus on what senses of "growth" we are missing if we use this narrow "economic growth" in place of it. Was going from a 6 day work week to a 5 day work week a step backwards?