John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society was one of the first non-textbooks on economics I ever read, when it was recommended to me as a schoolboy just starting out on an economics course prior to applying to university. It made a lasting impression on me. Galbraith was a brilliant and compelling writer of books for the layman, managing to entertain without trivialising, and to inform without overwhelming the intellect. He was very much a progressive Keynesian, with a deep concern for the poor and disadvantaged in society.
I am increasingly of the view that economists, politicians and the rest of society need to question rising GDP as a shibboleth of policymaking. I also remain aware that at the moment economic growth is needed to generate valuable employment providing the goods and services which many of us desire. Some of these are surely more necessary than others, and poorer countries need the rising income that comes with successful development more than the richest countries. Technological progress and structural change are also bound up with rising output. These factors are difficult to disentangle from one another, but we have not always had GDP as a central measure of economic progress, and perhaps it is time to incorporate alternative measures into our assessment of the latter, in ways which sustain it without wreaking unsustainable impacts on society and nature in which the economy is embedded. Here is the Open University’s Marcus Davison in a short extract from his chapter on financialisation in a wide-ranging book which is sharply critical of the nature of modern finance: Continue reading