EDMONTON — Western society has had 60 years of economic growth and yet people are increasingly unhappy, says economist Mark Anielski.
"Economic growth cannot lead us to the Promised Land," Anielski told the annual Social Justice Institute May 14.
Anielski, a University of Alberta business professor and author of The Economics of Happiness, said the prime measure of economic growth, the gross domestic product, is "a flawed calculator that only knows how to add."
With every divorce, every car crash, every case of cancer and every oil spill, the gross domestic product increases, he said. Yet it fails to consider the joy of children playing or the strength of marriages.
Since the Second World War, the rate of economic growth has been seen as necessary to solving problems such as poverty and environmental degradation, he said. However, environmental degradation, economic inequality and personal depression have continued to increase.
Canadian business schools continue to teach that the purpose of business is to make profits for owners and shareholders, he said. The leading economist Milton Friedman maintained that corporations have no social responsibility and that if they do not strive to maximize profits, they are acting immorally.
Anielski quoted at length from the former Italian prime minister, Amintori Fanfani, a Christian Democrat, who wrote that Christianity is opposed to capitalism which is founded on humanistic and naturalistic goals and is opposed to religious goals.
The Catholic Church has taught that there are divine rules against the accumulation and hoarding of wealth and against usury, he said, chiding the bishops and pope for failing to speak about those concerns since the 1850s.
St. Thomas Aquinas saw that it is unjust to make a profit off loaning money because that would involve selling something that does not exist.
Banks, said Anielski, "have corporate charters to create money out of thin air. That used to be called counterfeiting."
But while banks can create money by loaning it, there is never enough money in the financial system to pay off debts, he said.