“Growth” is a Perpetual Hollywood Ending

Economic growth is thus perhaps the last surviving manifestation of an Enlightenment faith that via science and technology human life will inevitably keep getting better. This means without consciously deciding to do so, economists have become academia’s most persistent optimists.

“Growth,” in fact, provides us with a perpetual Hollywood ending, at least in terms of our economic lives.

Hollywood endings, one of the most pervasive U.S. contributions to world culture, are popular—attracting and pleasing huge audiences—because people know that whatever happens they will end up feeling good. Feeling good is, of course, what most people want most of the time.

Likewise, no matter what is happening in any particular economic crisis, we all believe that we know how it will end: Economic growth brings jobs and a return to prosperity.



Mayu says:

I may be jumping ahead, but I feel like there is a difference between personal and national growth. Of course, having happy people makes you a happy country, but globalization and market economics (which I’m not incredibly familiar with) seems to dictate that countries still need to strive for economic wealth or be left behind.
I’m guessing that your argument is not that we should eliminate material wealth as a goal, but that we should focus our efforts on other metrics of happiness too. But there are scholars like Seth W. Norton at Wheaton who argue that a nation’s material growth decreases poverty and others like Rafael Reuveny and William R. Thompson who argue that GDP growth makes wars less likely. How should we take these expert opinions into account and at the same time reshape our notion of wealth?

Joel L. Swerdlow, Ph.D. says:

You raise two issues, both of which are important:
1/ The difference between personal “growth” and a society’s/country’s growth. This is an essential distinction. Very soon (in about 5 entries) we will see how some great philosophers try to tackle this (e.g. John Stuart Mill said that economic growth will reach an end point, but personal–in his words “moral”– growth never does);
2/ Whether changing our notions of growth will rob developing nations of benefits of growth (less poverty, less war, etc.). Is it possible to have such benefits of growth without the high costs to unquantifiable variables such as culture and human spirituality? There is, of course, no way of knowing without trying. My guess: as this book progresses you will see the way “growth” occurring now is neither inevitable nor the best possible option.


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