A Healthy Climate for Economic Growth
While physical and human capital deepening and better technology are important, equally important to a nation’s well-being is the climate or system within which these inputs are cultivated. Both the type of market economy and a legal system that governs and sustains property rights and contractual rights are important contributors to a healthy economic climate.
A healthy economic climate usually involves some sort of market orientation at the microeconomic, individual, or firm decision-making level. Markets that allow personal and business rewards and incentives for increasing human and physical capital encourage overall macroeconomic growth. For example, when workers participate in a competitive and well-functioning labor market, they have an incentive to acquire additional human capital, because additional education and skills will pay off in higher wages. Firms have an incentive to invest in physical capital and in training workers, because they expect to earn higher profits for their shareholders. Both individuals and firms look for new technologies, because even small inventions can make work easier or lead to product improvement. Collectively, such individual and business decisions made within a market structure add up to macroeconomic growth. Much of the rapid growth since the late nineteenth century has come from harnessing the power of competitive markets to allocate resources. This market orientation typically reaches beyond national borders and includes openness to international trade.
A general orientation toward markets does not rule out important roles for government. There are times when markets fail to allocate capital or technology in a manner that provides the greatest benefit for society as a whole. The government's role is to correct these failures. In addition, government can guide or influence markets toward certain outcomes. The following examples highlight some important areas that governments around the world have chosen to invest in to facilitate capital deepening and technology:
- Education. The Danish government requires all children under 16 to attend school. They can choose to attend a public school (Folkeskole) or a private school. Students do not pay tuition to attend Folkeskole. Thirteen percent of primary/secondary (elementary/high) school is private, and the government supplies vouchers to citizens who choose private school.
- Savings and Investment. In the United States, as in other countries, the government taxes gains from private investment. Low capital gains taxes encourage investment and so also economic growth.
- Infrastructure. The Japanese government in the mid-1990s undertook significant infrastructure projects to improve roads and public works. This in turn increased the stock of physical capital and ultimately economic growth.
- Special Economic Zones. The island of Mauritius is one of the few African nations to encourage international trade in government-supported special economic zones (SEZ). These are areas of the country, usually with access to a port where, among other benefits, the government does not tax trade. As a result of its SEZ, Mauritius has enjoyed above-average economic growth since the 1980s. Free trade does not have to occur in an SEZ however. Governments can encourage international trade across the board, or surrender to protectionism.
- Scientific Research. The European Union has strong programs to invest in scientific research. The researchers Abraham García and Pierre Mohnen demonstrate that firms which received support from the Austrian government actually increased their research intensity and had more sales. Governments can support scientific research and technical training that helps to create and spread new technologies. Governments can also provide a legal environment that protects the ability of inventors to profit from their inventions.
There are many more ways in which the government can play an active role in promoting economic growth. We explore them in other chapters and in particular in Macroeconomic Policy Around the World. A healthy climate for growth in GDP per capita and labor productivity includes human capital deepening, physical capital deepening, and technological gains, operating in a market-oriented economy with supportive government policies.