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Material wealth and happiness

  • Author:Hopely Li
  • Release on :2016-07-16


Economic growth is the religion of the modern world, the elixir that eases the pain of conflicts, the promise of indefinite progress. It is the solution to our perennial worries about not getting what we don’t have. And yet, at least in the West, the growth model is now as fleeting as Proust’s Albertine Simonet: Coming and going, with busts following booms and booms following busts, while an ideal world of steady, inclusive, long-lasting growth fades away.

In the United States, 80 percent of the population has seen no growth in purchasing power over the last 30 years. In France, annual per capita growth has dropped steadily from 3 percent in the 1970s to less than zero in 2013. In the interim, the political class has been flummoxed by stagnation, a hesitation that has opened the doors to populists of various stripes. But in its desperate search for scapegoats, the West skirts the key question: What would happen if our quest for never-ending economic growth has become a mirage? Would we find a suitable replacement for the system, or sink into despair and violence?

John Maynard Keynes, writing at the outset of the economic crisis of the 1930s, warned against misdiagnosing the situation. In his famous article “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” he declared that a period of exceptional prosperity was at hand and that the world’s “economic problem” would soon be resolved — just as, in the preceding century, strong growth and food safety arrived on a wave of technical innovation. To wring all we can out of the economic growth model, he said, the world must set aside greed and fear, outdated characteristics of a bygone era of misery. Instead, we must learn to enjoy ourselves — and above all to consume, without restraint and without worrying about tomorrow. Ultimately, Keynes believed that we would end up working only three hours a day and after turn to the truly important tasks of art, culture and religion.


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