“Fairytales of Economic Growth”–Grantham Institute Seminar

By Paul Homewood


The left wing Grantham Institute held a seminar last week, titled “Fairytales of Economic Growth”. It was presented by Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme.

The You Tube intro gives an outline:

The narrow pursuit of economic growth above all else has come at a tremendous social and environmental cost. Today’s crises are forcing us to ask hard questions about what we value and how we structure our economies. In this talk, Joyce Msuya will explore the relationship between economic growth and social progress, and highlight ways we can transform our economies to meet today’s biggest social and environmental challenges in ways that improve well-being and prosperity for all.

The Seminar offers a great insight to what the UN has planned for us!


Her talk only lasts 15 minutes. I have watched that bit, and jotted these notes down:

  • Modern economics is based on the assumption that self interest and competition best serves individual and collective wellbeing.
  • Our economic system encourages consumption; society values profit, material wealth and economic expansion
  • In high income countries, there are serious signs of social and cultural decay, loneliness, loss of trust in govts, and widening gap between rich and poor.
  • In West, most people’s living standards are no longer rising, and fruits of expansion are grabbed by those who have the most.

So far, she could have been quoting from the Marxist text book.

She then inevitably goes on to discuss the “Climate Crisis”

  • A fossil fuel based model of economic growth is destroying the ecological building blocks, on which our wellbeing depends

There’s loads more of this nonsense, which we have heard many times before, and which I do not intend to repeat.

But then she comes on to her conclusions as to how we can solve the crisis:

  • She stresses that rich countries must be treated differently to poorer ones, who must be allowed and aided to grow their economies.
  • The wicked West, however, must stop using economic growth and GDP as a measure of human wellbeing.
  • We must also put nature at the heart of our economy.
  • We must also redefine what we mean by wealth, which must in future be synonymous with human wellbeing
  • Amongst poorer countries, Costa Rica is apparently a good example to West of how we should live our lives!


Now here’s a few of my thoughts.

  • A society that does not value self interest is one that does not reward hard work and learning – surely not a recipe for collective wellbeing?
  • We have seen what happens in societies which abhor profit making. Maybe Msuya thinks the USSR was a good place to live?
  • Most people would be horrified if their standards of living reverted to, say, that of the 1930s. Clearly it is nonsensical to criticise consumption, wealth and economic expansion.
  • I don’t recognise her criticisms of the West, such as decay, living standards and so on. As for “loss of trust in govts”, maybe she should be criticising her own government in Tanzania or other African ones, who could learn a lot from western democracy.
  • Her concerns about the environment miss the point. Western countries now proactively protect and nurture the environment, precisely because of economic growth. In the past, and in countries like China now, there simply was not the money or resources available to do this.
  • Equally, it has always been capitalist economies which have led the way in protecting the environment. By contrast, in communist countries, such as the USSR, the system of government actively discouraged this.
  • The final segment is all rather muddled and rambling. How, for instance, do we measure “nature”?

When it comes to election time, nobody votes because of what GDP says. They vote on the basis of all of the things they value for their own well being – standard of living, security, crime, healthcare, education, public services and many other things.

To each individual, the list and weightings will be different, but it is up to them to decide what is important, not somebody from the UN.

But most indicators however clearly show that human wellbeing, however you define it, has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, both in the West and developing countries. If anyone is in any doubt about this, go and have a look at the Our World In Data website, which I often publish.

  • It cannot be denied that seven billion or so humans on the planet are putting strain on the environment. But we know that as societies grow wealthier, population growth slows. What does Msuya propose we do to reduce population levels, which can be the only consequence of her plans?
  • There is one final, and frightening, aspect of her proposals. How on earth can we sustain our present populations, both national and global, if her policies are followed through? How, for instance, would we feed ourselves, if intensive agriculture is banned? Or heat our homes, pay for hospitals and schools, care for the elderly and all the other things we take for granted? And we in the West are the lucky ones. In many parts of the world, millions will literally starve to death.

Sadly we cannot just write all this off as the mad ramblings of a loony left wing UN bureaucrat.



May 15, 2021 at 12:39PM

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