Note: assignment 5 covers Chapter 12 in Mankiw, on production and growth.
We now come to the most important topic in all of economics – economic growth.
In our on-campus discussions about this subject, I begin by making a couple of moral claims.
First, I argue that it is a universal human value to want to help the poor have a better life. Every set of religious scriptures I know of devotes considerable space arguing that we have a moral obligation to help the poor. The Bible, for example, mentions the poor over 2,100 times. As this guy notes in this speech to President Bush at the National Prayer Breakfast, “that’s a lot of airtime.”
One of the five pillars of Islam is the Zakat, a requirement that all Muslims should donate 2.5% of their wealth to the needy. A similar rule of thumb from my culture is to tithe 10% of your income to the poor.
And it is not just religious folks who care for the poor: one of my favorite authors, the secular humanist Kurt Vonnegut, repeatedly and consistently expresses concern for the poor, and often expresses contempt for societies and people who blame the poor for their circumstances rather than helping them. He often quotes another religious skeptic, the early 20th Century American socialist Eugene V. Debs:
“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
The second moral claim I make is that not only is it a universal human value to want to help the poor; it is also a modern universal human aspiration that we desire a higher standard of living for ourselves. Every one of you who reads these notes desires that your future will be materially better in many ways. This aspiration for a better future separates us from nearly every generation of humans that has preceded us. For most of human history most people expected that the world would not change, that their station in the world was pre-determined and unchangeable. We 21st Century humans not only expect our future will be better – we demand from our leaders that they institute policies that will enable us to make it better.