A bastion of growth scepticism

In: Uncategorized

17 Jun 2009

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the RSA, had a comment piece in yesterday’s Times (London) which recycled many key growth sceptic ideas.

He conceded that in many respects we have never had it so good. However, in his view we are plagued by rampant individualism and hyper consumerism.

Taylor bases his argument on the work of Avner Offer (see my review of his book on left hand side of the homepage): “It is the way things have got better that makes us feel worse. Avner Offer, the economic historian, sums up this argument in one line: ‘Affluence breeds impatience and impatience undermines wellbeing.’ Offer means by this that affluence makes us feel as though we no longer need the social norms, conventions and institutions that encourage us to look to our own and society’s long-term interests.”

He then moves on to our poor Stone Age brains (see my review of John Naish’s Enough on the left hand side): “But why have we failed to understand what we were losing in the forward march of individualism? An explanation may lie in the disjuncture between human evolution and history. While evolution is slow and incremental, history is accelerating in leaps and bounds. The brains that did fine for us for the first 200,000 years of our existence find it hard to cope with the revolutionary changes of the past century.”

He also implies that austerity could be a good thing: “Today most of the UK’s population have more disposable income than they need, not only to survive, but to enjoy good health and opportunities for leisure and self-development. But we have exhibited a mass version of the decadence that history has taught us to associate with the fall of the Roman Empire.”

For those interested in hearing leading proponents of growth sceptic ideas put their case they often give free lectures at the RSA in London.

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