A “pro-poor” attack on growth

In: Uncategorized

16 Mar 2008

Thomas Pogge argues in the Winter 2008 issue of Dissent that sacrificing economic growth is a “moral imperative”. His argument, which has many elements to it, is based on professed concern for the poor and for the environment.

To begin to tackle his arguments lets take four of his points on China and work out how to counter them:

* Claim one: Severe poverty has declined in China but the exact magnitude is uncertain. Counter: The magnitude may be uncertain but it does not follow that the gain is not worth having.

* Claim two: The sharp rise in international inequality may not be necessary for China’s growth and poverty reduction. Counter: China’s growth and poverty reduction are good things in themselves. The “necessity” of inequality is another question.

* Claim three: “Intranational inequality is not a simple economic parameter that clever economic planners can, in light of prevailing conditions, move up or down like the overnight interest rate”. Counter: That is true. Inequality does seem to be deeply rooted in capitalist economics. But at other points in the argument Pogge himself seems to assume that redistribution can be easily achieved.

Claim four: China’s spectacular growth is at the expense of other countries. Counter: No. Economic growth is not a zero-sum game. Pogge grudgingly admits this point but then seems to backtrack on it.

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