A Poverty of Reason-Sustainable Development and Economic Growth

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The new Information Awareness Office may be the greatest threat to
liberty created in the past year, but it is by no means the only
threat. In recent years, the “sustainable development” movement has
fostered a great expansion of bureaucratic activity at the regional,
national and international level.

Adherents to the sustainable development doctrine — which seeks to
impose laws and restrictions to reduce economic growth to some
unspecified “sustainable” level — employ pseudo-scientific claims
and green-marketing hype to mask their hostility toward freedom and private-property rights, as Oxford University economist Wilfred
Beckerman explains in his new book, A POVERTY OF REASON: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth (The Independent Institute, 2002).


“Support for sustainable development,” Beckerman writes, “is based on a confusion about its ethical implications and on a flagrant
disregard of the relevant factual evidence.”

The sustainable-development movement claims that mankind will soon exhaust all of the Earth’s natural resources and thus bring economic growth to a halt — a claim Beckerman shows is false both on theoretical and empirical grounds. “The true prospects for economic growth over the course of this century are that future generations will be much richer than people alive today,” according to Beckerman.

The movement also claims to represent the moral high ground because it places more emphasis on intergenerational equity than do
conventional economic principles. However, after Beckerman’s analysis it becomes clear that the campaign for sustainable development has no moral ground to stand on.

“The greatest contribution that we can make to the welfare of future
generations,” Beckerman argues, “is to bequeath a free and democratic society. And the best means of bequeathing such a society to future generations is to improve respect for human rights and democratic values today.

“Because these rights are currently violated in most countries of the
world, bequeathing a more decent and just society to future
generations in no way conflicts with the interests of people alive
today. There is no conflict between generations, therefore, with
respect to the most important contribution that can be made to human welfare, and hence no trade-off is necessary between the interests of the present generation and the interests of future generations.”

In short, Beckerman shows that the campaign for
sustainable-development policies suffers from a poverty of reason.

*”’To order A POVERTY OF REASON: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth, by Wilfred Beckerman, see”’

*”’Also see, “Why the Earth Summit on Sustainable Development was doomed to failure,” by Wilfred Beckerman (September 16, 2002)”’

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