The Financial Express

Blind pursuit of growth

| Updated: January 30, 2021 21:34:05

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Blind pursuit of growth

The ravages of the pandemic are visible in every aspect of life across the globe. To combat the pandemic, for the time being, the economies so obsessed with growth have been forced to put a brake on their madness to get the better of their competitors.  The insatiable lust for growth at the expense of all other considerations important for life had already cost the world dearly. Forestlands have been decimated, agricultural lands overexploited with fertilisers and poisoned with pesticides, rivers and oceans polluted with plastics and oil spills. Ever since the industrial revolution took place more than two and a half centuries back, the air began to be polluted with carbon-dioxide from burned fossil fuels. The global warming that resulted from such depredations of the natural environment by humans is for all to see.

Knowing full well that it is suicidal, this idea of economic development and social progress kept the world of business blind to the havocs its actions have been wreaking on the earth's life support system.

But as the very strict economic shutdowns were enforced worldwide in response to the pandemic, its positive impact on the environment was immediately visible. It showed humanity what was their path to continued survival on earth.

But as soon as the pandemic's fury showed signs of abating, things reverted to their old ways. However, with the second or even the third wave with (a) new variant(s) of the Covid-19 raging through Europe and some other developed part of the world, the self-destructive race for growth have subsided to some extent. But countries like Bangladesh that cannot afford to keep its economy dysfunctional for long for obvious reasons have to return to the familiar way of life. In fact, less developed economies are not in a position to change their pattern of energy use in an environ-friendly way. The leadership in changing the pattern of energy use should come from the advanced economies. This is for the simple reason that switching from a fossil fuel-burning economy to one based on renewable energy requires massive application of new technologies. But the world's big business interests are too snugly ensconced in the old technology-based energy establishment. And their perception of politics is also inextricably linked to this old model of development and growth.

So, it is not surprising that despite a section of the scientific community's pursuance of a set of codes for controlling human actions to reverse climate change since the 1970s, it largely fell on deaf ears.  On the contrary, the pursuit of growth supported by a new breed of economists and politicians rather accelerated with a vengeance. With their intellectual and moral support, new economic tigers in the erstwhile less developed Asian economies began to rise one after another. The pro-climate scientists' vociferous pleas went unheeded.

But what is this growth model that has kept the world intoxicated for so long? The Gross Domestic Product or in short, GDP lies at the base of the current growth concept.  It is as defined by the Investopedia as "the total monetary or market value of all the finished goods and services within a country's borders in a specific time period." The GDP figure calculated quarterly, half-yearly or on a yearly basis is considered the main marker of an economy's health. The way the concept of IQ has become the standard measure of people's intelligence and, as such, of their worth, so has GDP become the worth of an economy. Undoubtedly, the factors that GDP calculation takes into consideration are important indicators to understand an economy. However, its main emphasis is on the monetary value of all goods and services produced in a country. In fact, GDP looks at only the monetary worth of things and nothing else. Who decides the monetary worth of goods and services? Of course, the market?

But what about other work and services like the mother doing her homework, or raising her child? Leisure, though it is unavoidable for our continued sustenance, has no place in a GDP-driven life. And the most worrying aspect of this approach to economic growth is that it says nothing about how the income and wealth being created in the economy get distributed across the different tiers of society. As such, it is silent about the ever rising social and economic disparity in every country. It also ignores corruption, pollution and destruction of environment. The more greedy and predatory a business practice is, the more it contributes to the overall GDP and hence is welcome!

The growth that GDP supports only helps the rich to become richer and so billionaires are proliferating.

Bangladesh like the rest of the world is no exception. Our success in terms of GDP growth has received worldwide acclaim. Even in this pandemic-afflicted time, our GDP growth has not declined the way it was predicted by the global multilateral financial bodies like IMF and World Bank. But that apart, our economists and politicians, too, cannot see beyond the limits set by the GDP. Hence has the government dismissed the recent World Bank (WB) report predicting a lower GDP growth at 1.6 per cent in the current fiscal year (FY 2020-21) for Bangladesh as unacceptable and has stuck to the figure it set for budget at 7.4 per cent. Even during FY 2019-20 when the economy saw its worst days due to massive supply chain disruptions following the 'lockdowns,' the GDP growth still remained at 5.4 per cent, though WB feared it might drop to 2.0 per cent.

Granted that the country's economic growth is continuing at a comfortable level. But has this growth been able to stop the rise in poverty level or unemployment rate, ever-widening income disparities? It has not. Though our economy's size is far smaller than those of the developed countries, it has still its many billionaires unheard of in the past. This is not to say that an increase in the number of superrich people is wrong. But what is important is that the growth model pursued should at the same time be able to include the rest of society in its march forward. Our development planners need also to look for alternative paths of development that gives more attention to the well-being of the common people.

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