It is also important to recognise that the distrust of material prosperity is not a new phenomenon. A decade ago I wrote Ferraris for All: In Defence of Economic Progress. It was intended as a riposte to the critics of material prosperity. Its target is not so much the ‘deep greens’, who we all recognise as overtly hostile to economic growth, as represented today by the likes of Extinction Rebellion, for instance. Instead, the book’s focus is on what I call ‘growth scepticism’ in mainstream elite circles. Growth scepticism is a viewpoint which professes an attachment to modernity and prosperity while casting doubt on them at every turn.
The argument of the growth sceptics can be summed up by the phrase ‘I am in favour of economic progress, but…’. They argue that growth is good, but it has to be limited because it harms the environment, because it undermines happiness or because it causes extreme inequality. However, I argue that economic progress is the key to finding solutions to environmental problems, and is also the key to achieving mass affluence. The promotion of happiness is essentially a plea for us to be happy with what we have already got. It is meant to subdue the desire for more which has always been an important driving force in human history.