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From Economic Growth to Human Growth

October 15, 2012

Dennis Snower in The Globalist:

The world faces an imminent challenge: How will we be able to meet the consumption demands of a rapidly growing middle class in a way that is environmentally sustainable?

There is a real danger, even in discussions among reform-minded people, of interpreting economic growth in the traditional way. We say: Can growth be socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable? But we often mean growth in terms of economic activity that generally leads to consumption.

It would be well to keep in mind that 70% of the difference in the well-being between those countries that have self-reported their well-being as either highest or lowest depends on something completely different.

The number one consideration in determining happiness is jobs and the ability to work, followed by health, security and social connections. Ranking in last place is the attainment of material goods above the basic needs.

These findings confirm that, when we are thinking about growth, we should really take into account what people’s own views are with regard to what determines their well-being. We definitely need to consider growth in this much broader, nonmaterial context.

The same reconsideration may be necessary with regard to the vexing issue of poverty. For a long, long time, the first thing that always came into our mind was material poverty.

But given that much of the world population is rapidly escaping from extreme poverty, the big challenge that we will face on this front are the other, nonmaterially driven dimensions of poverty.

In the future, won’t we have to fight much harder against poverty in terms of our ability to connect socially? Our ability to find meaning and purpose and to achieve personal growth? All of these factors need to be given far more serious thought. [More]

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