Saturday, September 19, 2009

On Economic Growth

Yesterday I had a great dinner with some tofu teriyaki (I'm a vegetarian). It was fun to see how the cook made the food in front of you. I enjoyed the meal, the process, and was fully satisfied at this interesting experience at the end. Part of the fulfillment also comes at the cheap price: the meal costs about USD $3 and included all-you-can-eat fried rice. On my way back on the bus, it came to me that this is the meaning of economic growth: on average, everyone in the society consumes more, but also becomes more skillful to produce more, so that everyone's consuming / producing ability increases. And when everyone's consumption / production increases, the economics grows.

So indeed economic growth can be seen as a form of progress: making more, having more, and consuming more. But is such thing always better? As some of the productions may do harm to environment or people? Or the exchange might be unfair / unlawful (labor exploitation, or extreme poverty / richness caused by unfair distribution) But then I realize this is a question of “what do you consume?” You can also consume spiritual / knowledge goods (which I do.. mostly) and lower your material production / consumption (to lessen the environmental impact). So the ills in modern societies may not be inherently the fault of economic growth (as protesters of WTO or G8 believe); but rather, what the society chooses to produce and consume. For example, if society chooses to spend resources and focus consumption / production on education, on social work, on caring for the sick / poor / old. Then there may still be quite some economic activity (more social workers and exchange of their productivity), but in a service fashion with minimal environmental impact. In fact, one may argue that the growth of service sector in developed nations, reflects our shifting needs from the material world to the mental / psychological, or even spiritual. So for my verdict, perhaps economic growth isn't inherently bad after all. From another point of view, growth is inevitable as humans always want to become more / have more / enjoy more, or become better at certain things. This pursuit is relentless and likely will never end. However, while 'growth' is unstoppable, I think we can choose in what aspect shall we grow: for material collection / production, or for other types of activities / services? (for example, do shopping in the virtual world instead of real-world shopping, invest in education / learning instead of buying bigger houses or furnitures).

If so, we might actually enjoy the benefits of growth, without having to cause harm or make permanent damages to the environment or other living beings in the process.

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