The Case for Economic Growth and Winter Discussions

Even during the winter break, professors were interacting with colleagues in their field. Many from the English and Language and Linguistics departments attended the Modern Language Association conference in Boston.

Stephen Smith

But some, like Stephen Smith, professor of economics and business, flew across country to San Diego, CA.  Smith, along with Bruce Webb, retired professor of economics and business and Edd Noell of Westmont College, organized a session entitled, “The Case for Economic Growth: Where Does the Modern Debate Stand?” for the Association of Christian Economists during the American Economics Association conference, January 4-6. Here’s what Smith said about the session, which he chaired:

“We were pleased that the room was packed with more than 65 attendees.  Each of the participants spoke on a particular dimension of the current debate about economic growth.  Ben Friedman of Harvard University—who literally wrote the book on morality and growth, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth— argued from a secular point of view that the conventional wisdom that growth poses a choice ‘between material positives and moral negatives’ is fundamentally mistaken.

“Rather, he maintained, growth makes tolerance, democracy and other civic virtues more likely to emerge where they have been absent, and more likely to strengthen where they already exist. Bob Nelson of the University of Maryland expounded on the tensions between (some) environmentalists and economists on growth, which he argues are rooted in contending worldviews about the status of the environment.

“These worldviews, though secular, are fundamentally religious in nature.  Paul Glewwe of Oxford University assessed the empirical record of how and to what extent growth improves welfare in poor countries; interestingly, some kinds of social indicators, such as infant mortality, seem much more positively related to growth than do others, and while there is a consensus amongst economists that growth helps the poor achieve higher welfare the specific mechanisms by which this occurs are hard to estimate precisely.  Finally, Edd Noell assessed the moral arguments for and against growth in rich countries, paying particular attention to recent Christian critiques of growth.  He argued that growth is on balance desirable and can be defended in Christian ethical terms.  His comments drew heavily from our new book, with Bruce Webb, Human Flourishing: The Case for Economic Growth, which is forthcoming this February from AEI Press.  Before the end of the session some lively Q&A ensued and we were glad to have been able to address this important topic in this way.”

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