In the 20th century, increased production was a fairly successful response to absolute poverty, which had been the lot of most of the human race for most of history. But in the 21st century, that path has come to a dead end, as the planet reaches its resource limits. A more equal distribution of wealth needs to return to the centre of development theory.
That is Jonathan Glennie writing in The Guardian. To which I can only say: What the?
First, the economic expansion we’ve witnessed in the developing world in the last 20 years is unprecedented in human history–many multiples of the growth rates of the UK and US at the heights of their industrial revolutions.
The growth in output and income that comes from resource extraction is quite small. Much of the growth comes from improved organization, technology, and knowledge–better and more efficient combination of resources. One reason that growth has been so explosive in much of the world is because this technology and knowledge diffuses. More slowly in some places than others, but inexorably it moves.
This growth has been the biggest driver of falling global inequality in the past ten or twenty years. China has risen fast, and a large number (maybe a majority) of African countries have experienced high and steady growth for a decade. Go to Uganda or Vietnam. You can smell growth.
The countries left behind are left behind for many reasons, but most of all because of disordered politics, conflict, and the absence of anything resembling a social contract and stable government. But should they stabilize themselves (much as Ugandans and Vietnamese did in the 1980s) these nations would enjoy no better path than the one presently carrying Uganda and Vietnam ahead. And I am confident that will happen.
Physical resources could stay fixed right now and, while growth would be hampered, onward it would climb as we advance in organization and invention and combination.
I do not mean to diminish inequality of growth, and the emergence of divergence. Growth is not unsullied by inequity. But does that require a stronger system of social support within the existing economics, or must we stop the paradigm at its height of success?