Development Issues in Production, Innovation, and Inclusion
The problem of "development" continues to be a topic that draws the attention of academics and is also becoming more and more the concern of every person. This is especially seen when government policies, such as those made in relation to the spread of covid-19, present clear cases which directly affect the lives and well-being of individual citizens.
For the Austro-libertarian, the definition of sustainable development by the Brundtland Commission back in 1987 carries several questionable implications, as argued by Morgan Poliquin. Nowadays, however, development studies as a practice has evolved to include other ideas in the attempt to see different and multifaceted understandings of development.
In online lectures by Jeffrey Sachs based on his book The Age of Sustainable Development, he notes that development has evolved into a more practical and holistic approach composed of three pillars: economic development, environmental sustainability, and social inclusion. Despite the broader definition, it is important to remain critical, so for this article, we shall critique of these aspects to see what could be usefully applied in practice.
Traditionally, the first pillar of economic development has been measured using gross domestic product, or GDP for short. Asim Hussain argued that GDP cannot measure the quality of life, and Frank Shostak outlined how GDP growth doesn’t necessarily indicate true economic growth. This single number, often used by governments to report to citizens how well or poorly their country is doing economically, has been lauded as the main economic indicator for a long time, and questioning it has been long overdue.
Even Jeffrey Sachs acknowledges that GDP has limitations, which is why he posits that other measures of development are also important for a more complete picture of development. These can range from metrics that consider and aggregate other aspects of development, like the Human Development Index, or metrics that try to measure subjective happiness, such as the Cantril ladder.
Such approaches are at least better in that the human factor is given more emphasis, but as with any mathematical model made in an attempt to aggregate human experiences, we should always remain skeptical, and as with GDP, understand and be wary of their limitations. In this way, policies enacted to reach such measures of economic ends should rightly be scrutinized.
The next pillar that needs to be examined is that which ties development to the state of the environment. However, this leads to several problems regarding how to approach growing the economy, especially when this always seems to be at odds with the usage of resources and the environment. The Austro-libertarian perspective favors a movement toward innovation, which will manage, at its own accord, without further prodding, to create the goods and services that we need for our day and age, and not only in an environmental sense.
Tyler Watts wrote a critical argument about how concepts of environmental sustainability are at odds with economics. Among the ideas discussed was the power of innovation: in a free market economy, innovation would happen more naturally. The creation of cheaper, more efficient—and, by extension, cleaner and less wasteful—products and services is bound to happen as a consequence of progress and functional prices, due to the enabling of entrepreneurs to create competitive goods in the economy.
The idea that innovation pushed by economic freedom in the market is inherently reckless certainly needs to be examined. As Gary Galles contends, it is not a zero-sum game, for society as a whole prospers through innovation. The betterment of the world can come from allowing entrepreneurs to thrive.
Finally, the more human elements of development can be addressed in the last pillar, which is about humanity itself. Development should never be seen independently of the context of the people who make up society, and it is a valid human desire to be part of a society wherein they feel enabled to participate.
There are, of course, various ways to include people in society, and this continues to be a subject of debate and scrutiny. Nevertheless, there are humanity-centered approaches to development that can further the position of an Austro-libertarian—such as the human security approach or the capabilities approach—but one of them stands out in particular: the rights-based approach.
An inclusive society through the rights-based approach means that all persons should be able to live with their fundamental rights intact, and where they are not oppressed, but rather empowered. This should include the ability of individuals to participate fully in the economy and to have their personal liberties protected. To be able to live in a free society that honors these rights is a goal for social inclusion, and a desirable end for the Austro-libertarian.
The other approaches, such as the human security approach, which can be used to promote the value of peace and denounce the horrors and ultimate costs of war, or the capabilities approach, which can highlight the importance of realizing individual freedom, could also be looked into for similar valuable insights. War and slavery are, after all, unwelcome in an inclusive and free society.
Contemporary approaches and theories in sustainable development expand the definition of its study to consider perspectives beyond the original definition of the Brundtland Commission. These are perspectives that can be compatible with the Austro-libertarian perspective. The need to critically examine these emerging ideas, to lobby for the values of the free market and of personal liberty, and to hold governments accountable for desirable ideas of development, continues to be as relevant and important as before.