Against Growth Agnosticism
By Bryan Caplan
Tim Kane is as sickened by growth agnosticism as I am:
So why is that so many popular discussion of growth
emphasize how totally mysterious it is? William Easterly’s book, “The
Elusive Quest for Growth” is a case in point, but I think that kind of
soundbite epitomizes the policy conversation. Growth is described ad
nauseum as a “mystery” in reverent tones. And, not to make a pun, it
really makes me sick. (This is no knock on Easterly — his point is
that experts tried to force correlations into causations, and failed.
They were stuck on Kaldor 1.0)
How about this: growth isn’t a mystery.
By and large, we know what works and what doesn’t. Corruption doesn’t
work well, property rights do. Globalization is working everywhere it
is allowed. Protectionism is a disaster, in the long term and usually
before. Democracy, unfortunately, seems insignificant in promoting
growth, but free markets are essential. And, as every young American
RTS playing teen knows, technology wins. And as almost every great
innovator attests, entrepreneurship equals technology.
There remain unanswered questions, sure. But because
scientists have yet to control fusion hardly means they can’t design an
engine that harnesses energy for locomotion. Because philosophers have
yet to agree on the meaning of life surely does not imply they have no
sense of morality. Bottom line: we know everything we need to know
about growth to end poverty on Earth in this century.
When I was reading Portfolios of the Poor, I kept thinking about the needlessness of all the characters’ suffering. Poverty is tragic in the literal sense: Countries’ flawed collective decisions are the ultimate cause of their own plight.