Growth matters: Wilkinson takes on Rogoff

by Ryan Streeter on January 9, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

I was a bit befuddled by Kenneth Rogoff’s column on rethinking the growth imperative, but I never got around to posting anything on it. And good thing, too – because I couldn’t have topped Will Wilkinson’s critique, which I just came across today thanks to e21’s daily email.

Rogoff questions how useful it is to focus on accelerating growth and raising absolute incomes over the long run. While making the point, he ignores some important research on the relationship between growing incomes and well-being, and pays attention instead to worries about climate change instead.

Wilkinson writes:

Well, tell me how much a growth rate of n% increases or decreases the probability of conflict or global warming of such and such severity and how much that warming or conflict would ding welfare, and then I’ll tell you if it makes more sense to worry about it. The rhetorical implication here is that high ongoing growth rates increase the likelihood of some sort of catastrophe, but this is just empty bluster–just Rogoff flapping his arms and hunching over like Quasimodo and growling and shouting “Oh no! Look out! The scary growth monster!” for no apparent reason at all.

What if a quick octupling of world welfare produces a lot more global warming faster, but simultaneously produces the capacity to adapt to exactly that amount of global warming? What if the welfare damage of global warming is greater the flatter the global growth path? Wouldn’t it make more sense to worry about that? Maybe! Also, is there less conflict or more conflict as people get richer? We know the answer: less conflict.

Read the whole thing.