Growth, but at what cost?

Growth, but at what cost?

At 4.4 percent annually, third quarter Turkish growth, which was released on December 10, came in higher than expectations of 4.1 percent.

Policymakers and economists alike are fixated on the quantity, but not the quality of growth. There has been some emphasis on the latter of late, but that boils down to whether growth is driven by domestic demand or exports. Which makes me wonder: Are we ignoring the really important questions on growth?

United Nations Development Programme’s annual Human Development Report is best known for its Human Development Index, a composite statistic of life expectancy, education and income that is used to rank countries. Turkey was 90th in the latest iteration of the index. The report itself looks at development through a main theme.

That theme was “economic growth and human development” in 1996. The report outlined five different types of growth that would be negative for human development: Jobless, rootless, ruthless, voiceless and futureless.

Jobless growth does not create new employment opportunities. As I explained in my November 15 column, one of the enigmas of the Turkish economy in the last few years has been employment gains that were stronger than the growth figures would suggest. I do not think this trend will continue, but for now, Turkish growth is definitely not jobless.

Ruthless growth only benefits the rich. The decrease in poverty rates, which fell sharply in the early years of the Justice and Development Party, seems to have slowed down. As for inequality, there has been some improvement, but as I explained in my April 15 column, the largest gains have been made by the middle classes, not the poor.

Rootless growth comes at the expense of cultural or minority identity. While minorities have not had it easy in Turkey since 1915, their repression does not have much to do with growth. And you don’t see many Turks playing baseball.

Don’t be deceived by journalist (and deputy) Mustafa Balbay’s release. Turkey is still the world’s largest prison for journalists. The country has been ranking in the 80s in different democracy indices, which label it as a hybrid democracy, during the last decade. So it is fair to say that Turkish growth is voiceless, i.e. without improvement in democracy and social inclusion.

Last but definitely not the least, Turkish growth is futureless, i.e. undermining future generations by depleting resources and destroying biodiversity.  Turkey ranked 109th out of 132 countries in my alma mater Yale University’s 2012 Environmental Performance Index. I have stopped looking at Facebook updates of my world-renowned environmentalist friend Çağan Şekercioğlu because the damned dams, murdered animals and the like depress me.

But then again, as John Maynard Keynes said, we are all dead in the long run. So why should Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who wants to to cut a canal across Istanbul, or his Orwellian Environment (and Urban Planning) Minister and their cronies care about the environment?