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Growth, Quality, Happiness, and the Poor

  • McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen
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    Real national income per head in Britain rose by a factor of about 16 from the 18th century to the present. Other cases, such as that of the U.S. or Korea, have been even more startling, historically speaking. Like the realization in astronomy during the 1920s that most of the “nebulae” detected by telescopes are in fact other galaxies unspeakably far from ours, the Great Fact of economic growth, discovered by historians and economists in the 1950s and elaborated since then, changes everything. And 16, if one follows William Nordhaus’ persuasive arguments about quality improvements in (say) lighting, is a very low lower bound: the true factor is roughly 100. As Maxine Berg has argued, changing quality of products was as important as changes in process. But the gain is not to be measured by pot-of-pleasure “happiness studies.” These are questionable on technical grounds, but especially on the grounds that they do not measure human fulfillment. They ignore the humanities, pretending to scientific precision. It makes more sense to stay with things we economists can actually measure, such as the rise of human scope indicated by the factor of 16 or Nordhaus’ factor of 100, or by what Sen and Nussbaum call “capabilities.” Of course, what we really care about are the scope or capabilities of the poor. These have enormously expanded under “capitalism”---though a better word is simply “innovation,” arising from bourgeois dignity and liberty. It is the Bourgeois Deal: let me alertly seek profit, and I will make you rich.”

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    File URL: http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/17967/1/MPRA_paper_17967.pdf
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    Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 17967.

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    Date of creation: 07 Jun 2009
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    Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:17967
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    1. Kenneth L. Sokoloff, 1988. "Inventive Activity in Early Industrial America: Evidence From Patent Records, 1790-1846," UCLA Economics Working Papers 499, UCLA Department of Economics.
    2. Easterlin, Richard A., 1981. "Why Isn't the Whole World Developed?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(01), pages 1-17, March.
    3. Young, Allyn A., 1928. "Increasing Returns and Economic Progress," History of Economic Thought Articles, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, vol. 38, pages 527-542.
    4. Fogel, Robert W., 2009. "Forecasting the cost of U.S. Health Care in 2040," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 482-488, July.
    5. Gregory Clark, 2007. "A Review of Avner Greif's Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 45(3), pages 725-741, September.
    6. Nicholas Crafts & C. Knick Harley, 2002. "Precocious British industrialization: a general equilibrium perspective," Economic History Working Papers 22368, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    7. Gordon, Robert J., 1990. "The Measurement of Durable Goods Prices," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 1, number 9780226304557.
    8. Buchanan, James M, 2003. " Justice among Natural Equals: Memorial Marker for John Rawls," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 114(3-4), pages iii-v, March.
    9. Brent R. Moulton, 1996. "Bias in the Consumer Price Index: What Is the Evidence?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(4), pages 159-177, Fall.
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