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‘A Call for Intergenerational Justice’ and the Question of Economic Growth

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While there is much to applaud in the Center for Public Justice and Evangelicals for Social Action’s “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” the lack of discussion of the problem of economic growth is troubling. I believe Don Peck is correct when he writes in The Atlantic:

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years.

The only solution here seems to be economic growth. And while tackling the staggering problem of the debt is an integral component to ensuring the younger generation gets a fair shot to succeed the first and most pressing issue is employment itself. There is little in ‘A Call for Intergenerational Justice’ that takes this challenge seriously as it calls for cuts in programs (Such as military spending and business subsidies) which do create jobs for many Americans. This is not to say that these cuts should be taken off the table but rather that there needs to be an acknowledgement that these cuts will also affect Americans negatively and may, in the short term at least, add to the ranks of the poor in America.

These are not easy questions to answer but I believe that any solution to the question of intergenerational justice must begin with the question of economic growth. We need solutions that empower entrepreneurs, invigorate the private sector, and accelerate economic growth informed by an understanding of the role of markets and free enterprise.

Dan Hugger Dan Hugger is Librarian and Research Associate at the Acton Institute.


  • There is, at least, one sentence in the “Call for Intergenerational Justice” that deals with this directly: “Neither does it mean neglecting appropriate investments in things like education and infrastructure.” Also, indirectly, reducing health care costs and eliminating tax subsidies that distort the marketplace would aid economic growth. But, I would agree that economic growth is not a concern that one can find front and center in the “Call”.

  • It is likely best that economic growth be excluded from this petition. Growth is a loaded term, but in the North American context is not understood as the kind of growth needed. If we want to grow an economy around sustainable practices, service to one another, infrastructure, then that’s one approach. The more common understanding is an increase in material production for consumption, ignoring the Christian responsibility of Creational stewardship.

    So it is growth of an economy built on cornucopian consumption vs. multi-dimensional growth based care for the common resources in the gift of the Creation. That’s not an argument to get into in a focussed petition.
    If jobs are reduced to serving material production and consumption, then I would have a hard time signing the “Call” (I did sign). I’m not prepared to sacrifice, to collectively step back, so that in the future we can consume even more stuff having a short path to the landfill.

  • Dan Hugger


    Thanks for you comment! There are some things around the edges and, of course, balancing the budget itself is not without economic benefits. I think its going to be a trick to balance without increased economic growth though and I would have liked this fact to have been emphasized by ‘Call’.

  • Dan Hugger


    When I use the phrase ‘economic growth’ I mean it in the most general sense, an increase in per capita GDP fueled by increases in productivity.

    Questions of consumerism are important and careful discernment of our own desires and needs is critical to being a faithful steward of God’s many gifts. But I’m not sure how we would address issues of youth unemployment, budget deficits, and other issues of intergenerational justice without a commitment to and plan for economic growth. It’s also important to note the most dynamic sectors of growth in the economy today are service industries.

    That being said there are surely markets, especially but not exclusively in the third world, that desperately need consumer goods.

  • Roger McKinney

    As Napp’s post shows, economic development means different things to different folks. Politicians have made the term absolutely meaningless, as the left has made the term “social justice.” There is no proposal made by a politician that doesn’t carry the promise of economic development. Nevada doesn’t want to shut down whore houses because it might hurt economic development.

    Nothing the government does causes economic development. The state cannot create wealth. It’s simply impossible. Every dime the state takes for “infrastructure” spending it takes from someone else and destroys as much as it creates, or more. Besides, the US has wasted trillions on bridges to nowhere.

    Dick, I agree with your concern about consumerism, but the idea that consumer spending drives economic growth is nonsense. It’s Keynesian economics, which Hayek, Mises and many other proved was not only bad economics but very destructive policy.

    To know what causes real wealth creation, per capita real gdp growth, one has to know good economics, and that means Austrian economics. But even some non-Austrians see the light. Look at the Solow growth model. It’s great and Austrians agree completely: investment of savings in capital goods production is the only sustainable path to wealth creation and poverty reduction.

    Anything the state does to hinder savings and investment destroys job creation and increases poverty. Poverty-increasing policies include high taxes, heavy regulation and persistent inflation.

  • Roger McKinney

    PS, and high taxes destroy jobs no matter what the politicians do with the tax revenue.

  • Dick: Are you talking about consumption or are you talking about materialism and/or consumerism? And if you’re not for economic growth, are you for shrinking the economy?

  • Well, my rant certainly generated interest, and I apologize for being less than specific. I’m not an economist so the details are missing in my head. Mostly I object to unqualified economic growth. I’m reminded of Harvey Cox’s wonderful essay in Atlantic Monthly a few years back, The Market as God. I’m also thinking of the various versions of a Theology of Enough.
    Essentially as stewards of the creation the economy we create has to recognize long term sustainability, both as a matter of generational survival and in recognition of the principles of public justice.
    I am for economic growth, but growth in an economy that promotes sustainable well-being for all – and not just Americans. Too airy fairy? Maybe, but surely Biblical principles do not comfortably fit with either Austrian or Keynsian economics. We can do better than bounce between individualism and collectivism.

  • Roger McKinney

    Dick, actually Biblical principles fit very well with Austrian economics, but not with Keynesian or monetarist economics. In Austrian econ, growth is sustainable because it is funded with savings. That kind of growth spreads the wealth to workers and consumers.

    In a free market, prices rise to indicate scarcity and encourage people to conserve scarce resources. And private property reduces environmental destruction. Almost all environmental destruction takes place on state-owned land.

    Keynesian and monetarist growth, on the other hand, counterfeits money and encourages rampant consumerism and waste.

    The Bible sanctifies private property for a good reason. It provides many positive externalities that few people consider.