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Human Well-Being and Economic Goals

PART VIII
National Development:
From Basic Needs to the Welfare State
Overview Essay Page 1

Frank Ackerman

Why does national economic development matter? Offering a precise answer is more difficult than it appears at first glance. If, as argued throughout this volume, human wellbeing cannot be achieved through private consumption alone, then economic development cannot be justified solely in terms of growth in per capita incomes. What else is needed, in addition to (or perhaps, in affluent societies, in place of) economic growth? What development objectives should a government pursue, in addition to (or in place of) promoting increases in national income?

Two separate discourses address these fundamental questions about development. They emerge from opposite ends of the income spectrum, but raise a number of similar issues and concerns. On the one hand, discussions of development economics have frequent ly observed that a nation's average per capita income is not an adequate measure of the wellbeing of the poor. This has led to an interest in problems of equity and distribution of resources, and to measures of development that encompass more than money income. Several of the articles in this section examine the questions of human needs, equity, and the goals of development from the perspective of low-income, developing nations.

On the other hand, even the most affluent nations continue to experience political conflict over issues of equity and distributional justice, and have resolved these conflicts in very different ways. The resulting role of government varies from the welf are states and social democracies of northern Europe, to the welfare cutbacks and increasingly laissez-faire, "anti-social" democracy of the United States. Critiques of U.S. policies in the area of equity and social welfare address only one end of the spectrum; to explore the limits of what can be accomplished in developed countries, it is necessary to look elsewhere. Several articles in this section deal with the economic theory and political philosophy of the welfare state, involving concepts of equity and needs that are remarkably similar to those found in the development literature. (The important relationship between human welfare and environmental sustainability is largely omitted here; it was central to the first volume in this series, A SURVEY OF

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