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sexta-feira, junho 13, 2008

Sustaining growth is the century’s big challenge


Is it possible for the vast mass of humanity to enjoy the living standards of today’s high-income countries? This is, arguably, the biggest question confronting humanity in the 21st century. It is today’s version of the doubts expressed by Thomas Malthus, two centuries ago, about the possibility of enduring rises in living standards. On the answer depends the destiny of our progeny. It will determine whether this will be a world of hope rather than despair and of peace rather than conflict.

This – not the effectiveness of its particular prescriptions – is the biggest question raised by the report of the growth commission discussed here last week. It is also the focus of a powerful new book by Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute*.

The challenge is stark. World real incomes per head could rise 4.5 times by 2050 and world population by 40 per cent. This would mean a sixfold increase in global output, concentrated in the developing world (see charts). Is such an increase feasible?
One might not be quite as optimistic about the cost of the solutions. But one must recognise the salience of the challenges. If economic growth halted, conflict among the world’s people would risk becoming unmanageable. If the environmental consequences proved overwhelming, the costs of growth would become unbearable. We are the masters of our planet now. The great question for the 21st century is whether we can also become masters of ourselves.

*Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (Allen Lane, 2008)


More columns at www.ft.com/wolf


Financial Times


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