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Title: ‘The tide is rising, don’t rock the boat!’ Economic growth and the legitimation of inequality
Authors: Dale, G
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Edward Elgar
Citation: Handbook on International Development and Social Change, 2017
Abstract: A widely held view on the relationship between poverty and inequality is that there isn’t one. Welfare, in this optic, is determined by economic growth, not distribution. How the poor fare has nothing to do with how well-heeled are the rich. What matters is not the pie’s ingredients or how it is carved up, but the fact that tomorrow’s delivery is bigger than today’s. As the size of the average serving grows, all will reap the benefits. To switch metaphor, the aphorism that encapsulates the case is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ The ‘rising tide’ metaphor carries a distinctively modern charge. In this chapter I examine its qualities, as they relate in particular to the growth paradigm. By growth paradigm I refer to the idea that ‘the economy’ exists as an identifiable social sphere, that it possesses an inherent propensity to grow, that its growth is imperative, continuous (even limitless), and that growth is an acknowledged social goal and considered to be a fundamental social good—even, indeed, the principal remedy for a catalogue of social ills. I shall discuss four aspects of the ‘rising tide’ image. Three are attributes of the metaphor itself: it envisages ‘the economy’ as, like the sea, a law-governed natural phenomenon; it moves (or rises) as a whole, and in a manner that is perceptible and measurable; and all human livelihoods rest on a single socio-economic basis, much as vessels on the ocean. The fourth pertains to the conjuncture in which the aphorism first gained popularity: in a speech by John F. Kennedy in which he laid out his Smithian- Keynesian version of the growth paradigm.
Appears in Collections:Dept of Economics and Finance Research Papers

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