Economic Growth As A Moral Imperative

Note: The following post was originally published on January 16, 2012, on

Some recent studies have focused attention on the apparent fact that money does not buy happiness (or at least, that happiness tends to “max out” when one’s annual income reaches about $75,000 a year). On the Big Think blog, Will Wilkinson pleads for economic growth as a moral imperative:

…Kahnemann and Deaton have found that while life satisfaction, a judgment about how one’s life is going overall, does continue to rise with income, the quality of subjective experience improves until an annual income of about $75K and then plateaus. They conclude that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness [i.e., subjective experiential quality], and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being.”

What’s average world income? About $8K per year! The typical experience of a human being on Earth is “low life evaluation and low emotional well-being” due to too little money. How many times does global GDP need to double in order to put the average person at Kahnemann’s $75K hedonic max-out point? Three and change. But life satisfaction ain’t worth nothin’, and it keeps rising. And, of course, rising income doesn’t just correlate with rising happiness, but with better health, greater longevity, more and better education, increased freedom to choose the sort of life one wants, and so on. If it’s imperative to improve the health, welfare, and possibilities of humanity, growth is imperative.

via Why Economic Growth Totally Is Imperative.

If this is about right, then the greatest moral and existential dilemma of our time could be put succinctly: How can we triple global GDP more than three times to maximize universal happiness, health, longevity, education, freedom, and so forth…without destroying the planet for other species or future generations in the process?

If enlightenment means an end to suffering not just on an interior subjective level but in all dimensions of our existence and for all people, then evolution has got some serious work to do.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Integral worldview to our modern discourse is its ability to explain why the solutions offered by the left and right to address global economic inequality are inadequate.

Change must happen not only in collective structures (left) or individual values and behaviors (right), but both together. And the essence of that change is getting out of the way of Love.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

About Kalen O'Tolán

Kalen O'Tolan is one of the Hanimwaa, an Immortal being who has served humankind quietly for more than 2,000 years, descended from the Son of Orr in the Third Wave. He is a philosopher, poet, and warrior. The story of his life, death, and return is told in The Kalendar, a series of fantasy/adventure books created in partnership with the Poet and Tangent Publishers.