Should there be a distinction between growth and development, in order to achieve sustainability?

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12 June 2017

Timur Kuran

 Yes. Growth refers to an expansion in the goods and services that a  society produces. The goods and services produced by society may be available very widely, or alternatively they might be available to a small minority. They might be used efficiently, or they might be used inefficiently. In providing goods and services, health services, say to a particular group, we might do it in a way that minimises the costs of providing those services.  

On the other hand, at the other extreme, there may be various groups that get in the way, that collect various rents in the process of delivering these services to others in which case the targeted groups get a small share of the intended, a relatively small share, of the intended benefits. In the case where resources are delivered efficiently and they are delivered quite equitably, growth and development are more or less equivalent, but they don’t have, you have growth but not necessarily development when the resources are distributed quite unequally, and inefficiently. 


Sri Suryani

I think there should be. In case of Jakarta, for example, the city has been growing very rapidly for twenty years and mostly driven by the logic of the market supporting mainly economic growth. Almost 50% of green areas have been transformed into built-up areas for industry, residential, and commercial use, to accommodate urbanisation in the city.

This is what it was like until the discourse of 'sustainable Jakarta' was first introduced in the Jakarta City Plan 2010. In it, the government tried to put forward several agendas on environmental issues, such as flood-risk management project, being the provision of green and blue areas. In a way, there has been a rigorous attempt to reclaim areas where there are slum dwellers who live without land security. They are mostly the urban poor who have limited access to formal housing, and they haven't been able to formalise their plots of land in the green areas that belong to the state. Meanwhile, relocating these people into social housing takes away their livelihoods, the social support that comes from their community and the networks that have evolved over many years. So, when we talk about development, the socio-economic dimension has to be taken into account.


Patrick Heller

Yeah absolutely. I don't think growth is development at all. Growth is a possible means to development but one of many and I'm with Amartya Sen on this. Development is about expanding freedom, expanding people's ability to live the life they value, and obviously having a decent income, which is a function of growth and can be helpful, but we know a lot of cases where even in the absence of significant growth there's been a significant expansion of capabilities. So we shouldn't fetishize growth. And insofar as growth can actually undermine sustainability, it can be a problem in and of itself.


Kathryn Hochstetler

I think that’s the first step. You also have to ask questions like what kind of growth you’re talking about because all kinds of things can grow. Most of the time, this kind of question presumes economic growth – an aggregate increase in the total economy – and obviously that’s difficult to reconcile with elements of the environment. But in places, you do need that aggregate growth because there really aren’t enough economic resources to feed the population or provide them with health, education, etc.

Ultimately, we have to be careful with no growth arguments. In some places like Barcelona, or London, there are reasons to limit growth. But in the global south, where the no growth argument is mostly articulated, they need growth – so I think the question is what kind of growth, and for who?


Erin Beck

Yes! If sustainability is not just about environmental impact but also social impact in terms of levels of equality, quality of life, political voice and community "buy-in" in development, then focusing on macro-economic growth is not enough and may actually distract from more worthy goals. 


Max Spoor

Growth and development are obviously not the same. In the way we define growth now there can be (and sometimes is) less development, while growth can be even “anti-poor”. To achieve sustainability we need to look at the quality of growth, to become broad-based, job-rich, and with a production focused on needs, rather than on profit only. This means that also we should strive to de-growth and development.


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