July 4, 2022
NEW DELHI – The Covid-19 pandemic hit us at a time when anthropogenic climate change is threatening to destabilise our lives, global inequality is at an extreme high, fascism is on the rise, and an unprecedented 89.3 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. As we wake up from the nightmare of Covid-19 pandemic, is the former world really the one we want to return to? The widespread disruption of our lives as a result of the coronavirus pandemic compels us to rethink the flaws in our social and economic systems while comprehending the magnitude of a crisis that waded through national and international borders. Governments and policymakers all around the world are examining ways to deal with the pandemic-inflicted devastation, considering recovery measures, and probing for different means to return to normalcy.
However, failing to take the existing design flaws seriously and returning to the old ways should no longer be an option. The prevalent paradigm of our era with its sole focus on perpetual growth disregards many aspects of the human condition and the limitations of our biosphere. It now depends on us whether this once-in-a-century pandemic will be a once-in-a-generation juncture for a concrete shift from our flawed economic ideals. The current dominant narrative linking perpetual growth with prosperity is deeply rooted as a foundational idea in the mindsets of our policymakers. From finance ministries to central banks, and think tanks to policy institutes, the primary focus remains on economic expansion with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) being the yardstick for measurement.
The concept of economic growth is not irrelevant for a country but when we unduly focus on only one yardstick to assess our complex and intertwined society, we lose perspective of what the yardstick is supposed to measure. Growth is only supposed to be a means to an end, and not the end itself. Even though the growth approach has played a role in improving quality of life and alleviating poverty, it does not signify that this method is the best one or that all the successes in poverty reduction can be attributed to economic growth policies.
In the article titled, “How Poverty Ends: The Many Paths to Progress – and Why They Might Not Continue,” the 2019 Economics Nobel prize-winning duo, Esther Duflo and Abhijeet Banerjee write, “Looking back, it is clear that many of the important successes of the last few decades were the result not of economic growth but of a direct focus on improving particular outcomes, even in countries that were and have remained very poor.”
Creating targeted intervention with measurable objectives and focusing on precise aspects such as health, education, equality of opportunity, sustainability, innovation, and freedom of speech can go a long way in improving well-being without compromising other areas of societal development. Duflo and Banerjee conclude, “In the absence of a magic potion for development, the best way to profoundly transform millions of lives is not to try in vain to boost growth. It is to focus squarely on the thing that growth is supposed to improve: the well-being of the poor.”