The ‘growth’ devotees who have no clothes on
They are at it again, the devotees of ‘growth’ as the only, immutable, final, unassailable formula for humankind. This sect is the one that resides in the OECD, that odd grouping of 34 countries which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says includes “many of the world’s most advanced countries but also emerging countries like Mexico, Chile and Turkey” and which works “closely with emerging giants like China, India and Brazil”. It’s the aura of ‘inclusion’, that 21st century super-buzzword, that such a group works hard to project. The effects and impacts of the OECD’s growth first policies are barely recognised, as rarely within the organisation as within its member governments.
In this latest ‘what if’ exercise (which the OECD excels at – and for which game it employs an unknown number of economists, financial modellers, statisticians, policy ‘experts’, sector specialists and sundry unemployables – the OECD has said that (1) global growth is good and (2) that it will come from China and India in the next 50 years.
Global growth means nothing to local farmers, to local municipal workers, to primary school teachers, to nurses and resident doctors in community health centres, to family-run retail shops in slums and favelas and in the shanty-towns of the South. But this is not the OECD world and these are not the ears and senses to which the OECD (or for that matter the multilateral lending agencies and their client, pliant, governments) appeal. But global growth means much to the dense network of financiers and the adjutants of capital and the accumulators of wealth and resources on every continent and in every odorous capital city, hence it must be reinforced as the overweening dogma of our era and never mind the over-fishing, over-extraction, over-feeding, the transgressing of ecological boundaries near and far.
And so it is that the world’s comprador media parrots the lines, reapplies the make-up. “The US is likely to cede the top spot to China in the next three years while India will also surpass the US over the long term, an OECD report said,” according to Emerging Markets, one such media outlet. “Global growth, though at a declining rate, will be sustained by emerging markets between now and 2060 when the global economy will grow at around 3% per year on average.”
This new piece of quasi-intellectual chicanery from the OECD has called it a shift in the balance of economic power, a dramatic shift “over the next half century, with fast-growing emerging-market economies accounting for an ever-increasing share of global output” and major changes in country shares in world GDP. Hence, ‘Looking to 2060: Long-term global growth prospects’ has predicted: “On the basis of 2005 purchasing power parities, China is projected to surpass the Euro Area in a year or so and the United States in a few more years, to become the largest economy in the world, and India is projected to surpass Japan in the next year or two and the Euro area in about 20 years”.
The idiom is no different from what it was in 2002 and indeed what it was in 1992 – such is the inertia that macroeconomics blankets itself with, such is the comfort zone into which the middle classes of these “emerging economies” have been shepherded and who need, from time to time, reminders that their outsized appetites – for personal and family wealth, for processed food, for automobiles and air-conditioners and gadgets and equated monthly installments of every hue – are the only tolerable and acceptable normal. Growth after all is the best tonic for a suffering planet and for the legions of poor, whether in Caracas or Colombo.
This foggy and destructive school of thought is what leads to sterile statements such as “divergent long-term growth patterns lead to radical shifts in the relative size of economies”. Who cares about these divergent long-term growth patterns when they’re far more occupied with whether the medicines needed to treat their childrens’ fever are going to be affordable tomorrow and whether they should buy a couple of kilos more of flour to guard against a further spike in the price of that essential food next week? But such street and household concerns to not, in the spreadsheets of the OECD technicians, compute.
So we are told that the “United States is expected to cede its place as the world’s largest economy to China, as early as 2016” and that “the two Asian giants [China and India] will soon surpass the collective economy of the G7 nations”. Brazen within the rosy clouds of their fantasies, the OECD technicians (lotus-eaters in spadefuls) have no qualms about admitting what they have left out of their dreams: that “in keeping with the long-term focus, possible repercussions on trend output of prolonged period of deficient demand are ignored”, that “the resulting long-term scenario provides a relatively benign long-term outlook for the global economy”, that “the possibility of disorderly debt defaults, trade disruptions and possible bottlenecks to growth due to an unsustainable use of natural resources and services from the environment” are all happily kept out of the dream. “Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish,” Euripedes had counselled, and so we stand advised when confronted with such folly.