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Postmodern Values and Qualitative Growth

by TGeraghty Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 05:35:56 PM EST

This was originally a comment on Colman's Growth doesn't make you happier diary.

It gets to the debate some of us have been having about the desirability of more economic growth or productivity growth.

If, as has been suggested, citizens in post-modern societies and post-industrial economies get less happiness from accumulating more things, is there a "qualitative growth" that would provide more happiness for people through increasing non-material satisfactions and by raising the quality of the goods and services people consume?


[T]he whole World Values Survey, which grew out of the European Values Survey in 1981, is concerned with tracking value evolution across the globe, which is commonly seen as a two-step process. Though it is often simply referred to as "modernization," a more precise description differentiates between two stages.

The first is modernization, which involves the transition from agriculture to industrial societies, dominated by increases in income that translate into increased well-being. The second is post-modernization, which involves a shift in emphasis toward quality of life, self-expression and self-determination. . . .

The two-phase structure is very evident in the following graph of GNP and perceived well-being:

which is schematized thus:

To me, the point is not that productivity growth or economic growth are not important, but that in developed economies like the US or EU, we should focus on taking more of that growth in non-material goods. What sociologist Fred Block calls qualitative growth:

Quality Production and Non-material Goods -- [A] key principle [of qualitative growth] is the expansion of the qualitative dimensions of output, including satisfactions that are not directly embedded in commodities:

  • Intrinsically satisfying work
  • Voluntary leisure time
  • Economic security
  • A safe and clean environment
  • A plenitude of community and voluntary services

Qualitative growth would seek to reverse the underproduction of these satisfactions, while also systematically increasing the quality of all kinds of commodity outputs. . . . These improvements in quality would, in turn, contribute to the expanded development of human capacities that makes the economy more productive.

Shifts in the nature of consumption (services) and
technological advances make possible a reduction of pressures on the environment. . . . Under qualitative growth, environmental improvement is one way in which continued growth could occur. . . . no longer treat[ing] the environment as something completely external to the economy.

On-line resources for those interested in alternative measures of human welfare:

I should point out that the EU is well ahead of the US in just about all of these "qualitative growth" categories.

The "postmodern values" approach also seems to provide a powerful argument against dismantling the welfare state and increasing work hours in the pursuit of some ephemeral productivity gains that probably won't increase the happiness of European citizens anyway.

Now if we could only solve that damn unemployment problem . . .

by TGeraghty on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 05:44:02 PM EST
TG, you are a fresh of breath air!


"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Thu Jan 19th, 2006 at 06:52:03 PM EST
a fresh of breath air
stinkingly obnoxious?</snark>

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 06:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's taken me about half-dozen readings to see what you meant here. Fridays.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:06:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well done, greatly put together diary.
I am seconding Bob. <recommend>

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Fri Jan 20th, 2006 at 11:04:25 AM EST
Good post.  This whole issue of lifestyle values is in my opinion at the heart of our worldwide malaise.  The ideas and attitudes of qualitative growth, quality production and satisfying values, non material goods, etc. should be the "new religion."  But, when God died in the West, the new religion instead became materialism.

It is this crass religion of materialism that Islamist activists speak up against and confusing the issue for some westerners.  After all, they think, if Osama thinks it is bad, it must be good.

Not nesecarily Vern.  Anyway, this thread deserves much more exploration and articulation.  


by Keone Michaels on Sat Jan 21st, 2006 at 11:21:35 AM EST

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