Economic history with sceptical tinge

In: Uncategorized

18 Dec 2008

Monthly Review, an American left wing publication, has an article by Immanuel Wallerstein, a senior research scholar at Yale, on “The Human Costs of Economic Growth” in its December issue. The title is misleading as the article is a review of Amiya Kumar Bagchi’s Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005). The most explicit reference to the headline states that Bagchi:

“wishes to center his attention on the degree to which economic growth under capitalism is very poorly correlated with human development, even in the West. His book is an attempt to analyze in detail the human suffering that has been at the basis of ‘the advantages reaped by the European ruling classes’”.

Most of the review focuses on different explanations for the relatively rapid economic growth of the world over the past two centuries. However, from Wallerstein’s account the book sounds highly sceptical of the benefits of economic growth:

“Bagchi analyzes this capitalist world not in terms of how much growth it made possible but how much human development it made possible, and in this regard he finds it very wanting. One of his principal services to readers is his pulling together of the demographic literature on life expectancy, the public health literature on disease prevention and cure, data on nutrition, income levels, and the various forms of labor coercion to give us a nuanced picture of human development over time and throughout the world, one that is differentiated by geography, age cohorts, and gender.”