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Letter to The Economist


I was surprised to find your leader on the new approach to progress and the subsequent special report on the world economy filled with lackluster ideas for its improvement.

Only a few weeks ago you wrote a commendable review of ideas which gave astute and informed direction to this very quest - that for a better world (“Insatiable longing”, July 21st). As you said, such protagonists “think the West’s true malaise is not mechanical but moral”. It’s a shame then that these ideas were nowhere to be seen when it came to the business of shaping the world to come.

Just as your report refuses to acknowledge the ethical nature of its subject by veiling it with the language of pragmatism, its sincere concern for the wellbeing of Latin American and Asian countries misses another crucial point. Were the developing world to achieve Western living standards and contract American levels of consumption, how then would the planet cope with an additional few billion people consuming copious amounts of what remain finite resources? One cannot rely solely on the prospect of technological innovation without seriously questioning the logic of consumption itself when answering this question.

As the Bengali philosopher R. Tagore astutely replied to a Westerner’s critique of India’s lack of progress “You have to judge progress according to its aim”. For progressivism to have any meaning whatsoever it mustn’t shy away from declaring ethical concepts of equality and sustainability as its driving forces (the latter, rather incredibly, didn’t even feature in your 19-page report). This may mean that economic growth as we know it no longer ranks among our priorities. Rather than being afraid this might put you out of business, perhaps you could focus on the things that economists are so good at disregarding - namely the millions of externalities - an understanding of which is undoubtedly crucial to both the development of economic theory and our species’ advancement.

Pierre Smith Khanna



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