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In The Growth Delusion, author and prize-winning journalist David Pilling explores how economists and their cult of growth have hijacked our policy-making and infiltrated our thinking about what makes societies work. Our policies are geared relentlessly towards increasing our standard measure of growth, Gross Domestic Product. By this yardstick we have never been wealthier or happier. So why doesn't it feel that way? Why are we living in such fractured times, with global populism on the rise and wealth inequality as stark as ever?
In a book that is simultaneously trenchant, thought-provoking and entertaining, Pilling argues that we need to measure our successes and failures using different criteria. While for economic growth, heroin consumption and prostitution are worth more than volunteer work or public services, in a rational world we would learn how to value what makes economies better, not just what makes them bigger. So much of what is important to our wellbeing, from clean air to safe streets and from steady jobs to sound minds, lies outside the purview of our standard measure of success. We prioritise growth maximisation without stopping to think about the costs.
In prose that cuts through the complex language so often wielded by a priesthood of economists, Pilling argues that our steadfast loyalty to growth is informing misguided policies – and contributing to a rising mistrust of experts that is shaking the very foundations of our democracy.
David Pilling has been a prize-winning reporter and editor with the Financial Times for twenty-five years. Throughout most of his career he has been a foreign correspondent and has worked and reported from Asia to America and from Africa to Latin America. Currently the Africa editor for the Financial Times, he was previously the Asia editor, running coverage across the continent, while for the past decade, he has also been one of the newspaper's featured columnists. He has conducted dozens of interviews with world leaders, business executives, economists, artists and novelists from around the world.
He is the winner of several journalistic prizes, including Best Commentator prize by the Society of Publishers in Asia in both 2011 and 2012 and Best Foreign Commentator for 2011 in the UK's Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards for coverage of China, Japan and Pakistan. His first book, Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival (Allen Lane, 2014), received outstanding reviews. David Pilling lives in London but travels frequently to Africa.
"A most thoughtful and profound philosophical reflection on how we live our lives, organise our societies and shape the future of humanity. It should be compulsory reading for everyone who is interested in making the world a better place"
– Ha-Joon Chang, author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism
"A welcome antidote to the gospel according to GDP"
– David Smith, Sunday Times
"A witty, well-informed and well-travelled guide to our obsession with growth [...] If he sometimes makes fun of measurement, he also makes measurement fun. A real achievement"
– Angus Deaton, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
"Engaging and enlightening, The Growth Delusion explains not only why the emperor has no clothes, but why he wasn't really the emperor in the first place"
– David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas
"If you thought that GDP did not necessarily translate into increased welfare, David Pilling shows you convincingly why you were right. One of the Financial Times' most brilliant columnists, Pilling has produced a book that will become a classic"
– Jagdish Bhagwati, author of Why Growth Matters and In Defense of Globalization
"Excellent. The argument for better ways of measuring prosperity is steadily gathering momentum"
– Rohan Silva, Evening Standard
"A rare beast: a book on economics that is well written, accessible and – whisper it – entertaining! Witty, widely travelled and well-informed, David Pilling is an excellent guide to the pitfalls and shortcomings of GDP and a trenchant exponent of the need to move beyond the 'cult of growth'"
– New Internationalist
"Sharp and engaging [...] Pilling argues that gross domestic product (GDP) is an arbitrary, oversimplified human invention that we slavishly follow, and growth is a modern "cult". Like all cults, it requires unquestioning allegiance – in this case the one-decimal-point figure produced by national statisticians every three months. Pilling, who has written about GDP from five continents over 20 years for the FT, started asking questions about the cult and couldn't stop [...] Pilling is right that the spell needs to be broken [...] Entertaining and well-argued"
– Philip Aldrich, The Times
"A surprisingly zippy book that has the potential to take a smart riposte of mindless growth into mainstream debate [...] Pilling isn't afraid to make the well-worn criticisms of GDP, and does with clarity and force. But the real beauty of the book is how effortlessly he takes this argument a step further, demonstrating how GDP often makes no sense whatsoever, even taken on its own terms [...] A wonderful book [...] A surprisingly addictive page turner, capable of captivating the general reader on a subject known for making eyes glaze over [...] By injecting a credible dose of ambivalence into common assumptions about GDP he offers a very welcome entry into post-2008 economic writing"
– Resurgence Ecologist
"Briskly and engagingly, David Pilling alerts us to our impoverished sense of reality in an age that has sacrificed quality to quantity. The Growth Delusion should be read by everyone who wants to make sense of the political earthquakes of our time"
– Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger
"This is an excellent and timely book which should be mandatory reading for policymakers, economists, investors and, yes, journalists. It exposes the folly of our modern obsession with a narrow concept of economics and our reliance on gross domestic product data as a sign of well being – and does this in a lively, well written, and easy-to-understand way"
– Gillian Tett, author of Fool's Gold and The Silo Effect
"Entertaining and well-argued"
– Book of the Week, The Week
"In The Growth Delusion Pilling makes an important yet complicated subject accessible to experts and non-experts alike. The book offers a most insightful and at times witty guide to the essential question: what precisely is economic growth for and how can it be harnessed to improve the lives of people in poor countries as well as rich ones?"
– Kofi Annan, seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations and Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
"This is a fascinating and extremely readable book which engagingly challenges many of our assumptions about what makes for a successful economy and a happy life"
– Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong and author of East and West
"What economics needs now, what we all need, are people who can bring it back to life. In The Growth Delusion Pilling does exactly that, charting the idea of economic growth from its birth to the present through countless vivid stories"
– Joe Earle, author of The Econocracy