Image credit. What the above chart shows is that cocaine does not work, while capitalism does.
Those ignorant of the conditions of freedom never cease to cook up ingeniously misconceived arguments against her.
One "brilliant killer argument" suggests that beyond a certain point economic growth no longer adds to human satisfaction / happiness. For the purpose of the present post, we shall disregard demoscopic problems concerning the measurability of human happiness and the inter-human and inter-temporal comparability of any such metric. Instead let us focus on the fact that the above italicised proposition is based on at least two invalid premises.
The human capacity to feel satisfaction or happiness is finite, in particular, (a) it does not grow with the number of amenities available to man, (b) nor is it equipped to register fully and consistently the differences between competing social orders like the relative merits and performance characteristics of different societies or states of society.
First, value-adding activity - which is what economic growth is all about - is a constitutive need of the human species; hinder man in his striving to improve his situation and you cause him damage, you dehumanise him. Humankind is the species that survives and lives and lives happily by constantly improving its lot, adding value, thinking up desires and trying to fulfil these new needs. We respond and adapt to our environment by developing new needs and getting them satisfied to the best of our ability. We cannot suspend this value-adding propensity without causing harm and regression. Unless one is happy to invite decline, it is not an option to suggest: we are rich enough, we will not get any happier, so let us stop doing things that add value.
The crux: the way in which human beings adapt to their environment is by having and satisfying desires/needs. The greater the variety, variability and degree of differentiation of a specie's ability to have and satisfy needs/desires, the greater its ability to fit successfully with the wider environment. So the ability to constantly renew, extend and grow this ability is key to survival and advancement.
Now, what is wealth? Wealth consist of things and practices that enable man to satisfy his desires/needs. Hence, if an open-ended development of desires is an anthropological sine qua non and the key to continuous successful adaptation to a changing and changed environment, then incessantly growing wealth is just as important.
If man's ability to adapt to and advance in his environment is damaged and curtailed, he suffers impoverishment (relative to the unhampered presence of this ability), even to a degree that may well lead to stark poverty, misery, and death.
Truncating, inhibiting or fully precluding man's ability to develop and satisfy ever more desires/needs and hence to build up more and more wealth is quite simply inhumane. Not to mention that resource-intensive ambitions like comprehensive environmental protection cannot be achieved unless a high level of wealth is achieved and maintained.
Second, man is not a solitary creature; in order to survive he must be part of some community; that is to say, man as an individual does not create the world he needs to survive; he has to interact with other human beings, creating and getting involved in a complicated order beyond his control and comprehension - which is why the process whereby we create conditions securing survival takes place in large measure unbeknown to most human beings. If we are not even aware of what makes live more bearable or even wonderful, how are we to personally relish in these improvements and happy life conditions?
Hence, many of the things that make us lead more pleasant lives are in need of roundabout, abstract reconstruction (a specialised activity competing with other vocations), and are therefore unknown to most people and denied and rejected as false by large numbers of people.
Third, the affective apparatus that enables us to feel content or discontent, happy or unhappy, has not evolved to make us assess astutely the conditions that characterise our social existence. It is perfectly possible to be a sanguine person in the dark ages and a severely depressed billionaire in our days. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that evolution is there to make human beings increasingly happy.
True, evolution has brought about the vital and unique capacity of man to become an improver of his own condition. Which ability in turn increases chances for more happiness. But it does not appear that the maximum and the length of sustainable happiness has changed during the course of human evolution. In a word: the happiest contemporary is not likely to feel significantly more happy than a Neanderthaler at maximum happiness. And the happy among us have only 24 hours to be as happy as they can.
Also, probably a more realistic metric, conceptually at least, would seem to be absence of unhappiness or still more accurate absence of nuisances and pain. It does not appear to be a human trait to remain ecstatic and emotionally elevated continuously for lengthy periods of time. There is an economy of immediate happiness. Drugs that violate this economy prove to be unhealthy. If this consideration has any merit, we would not expect the removal of severe nuisances and pain as an automatic, constant, and lasting source of outright happiness; however such ameliorations are a typical and most welcome feature of the kind of progress attained under conditions of liberty. Freedom soon becomes a matter of fact, something so ordinary that it is no longer noticed.
Millions of aspects of our life (conditions) that can be qualified not only as significant improvements compared to alternative states of affairs, but as making us demonstrably more happy than we would be in their absence, are not responded to emotionally in terms of contentment or happiness.
For instance, the fact that Angela Merkel, the most powerful person in Germany, cannot enrich herself arbitrarily at my expense - she cannot even help, say, her baker friend Fritz by closing the competing Müller bakery around the corner. Baker Müller has substantial grounds to feel significantly more content in his present position of security from political interference compared to his being shipped away to a prison. Is he commensurately happier? No, his extraordinary fortune is not even registered on his happiness scale. This is, by the way, the reason why so few of the vastly beneficent effects of liberty are perceived at all.
The improvements brought about by liberty never had the purpose of making people feel happier, nor are they capable of moving the range of maximal human happiness upwards. However, while the conditions and sources of these improvements are little understood and much maligned, it is rarely observed that people who are free to choose prefer less of the (not only material) goods of freedom to more. Broadly, this is due to the fact that freedom works so much better than anything else. People tend to find this out, when left free to probe.