Stubborn Attachments makes the case that all policy decisions, unless constrained by inviolable human rights, should be made in the primary focus of sustainable growth. The book cites the metaphor of the “Crusonia Plant” — an idea coined by Frank Knight, used to describe processes that, like the plant, creates ongoing, self-sustaining, and self-regenerative growth over time. This type of growth factors sustainability amongst a larger list of pluralist values. Affectionately called “Wealth Plus”, it is central in what Tyler describes as his primary expression in the book, “a vision of a society of free, prosperous, and responsible individuals.”
As opposed to most traditional growth strategies that put growth at the expense of all other values, Stubborn Attachments emphasises repeatedly on the importance of calibrating our perspectives to make the choices which outcomes maximise a sustainable rate of growth. Some examples include: reducing warfare, preserving long-term environmentally sustainable production, increasing average leisure time, etc. Tyler also posits that it is the pursuit of wealth that offers societies the privilege of considering alternative concepts of happiness, and can also lead to greater net positives socially as well as culturally; compounding over time with wealth.
Committing to the goal of maximising sustainable rate of growth requires rationalisation of risk and benefits on varying time scales. The idea revolves around instant vs delayed gratification. How much of the future are we willing to sacrifice, in order to experience gratification today? This sacrifice has a name: discount rate. Discount rates can be measured from two perspectives — risk, or benefit. When a future benefit is uncertain, we discount benefit; for it may not arrive. For even more distant futures, where metrics that move the needle have diminishing returns, we discount risk to protect our future against great tragedies. In short: sustainable growth, combined with discount-rate decision making and patience can help us make good long-term choices!
On the topic of redistribution, Tyler’s views gravitates towards utilitarianism. He proposes that social welfare/tax adjustments should only be done with the goal of maximising growth. And the best types of social welfare programs are the ones that encourage idea generation. Idea generation form exponential returns and are reproducible in many markets in marginal costs. What’s better than idea generation is strong idea generation: the kind that is predicated on a society’s taste for risk, imagination, openness, and competition. Combining the incentives for stronger idea generation with a large market to sell then consequentially creates a strong virtuous cycle between ideas and growth. Therefore when designing policy for redistribution we need to ask ourselves: how do we support an appetite for risk amongst entrepreneurs, without excessive top-down optimisation creating dependence on the state; the opposite of a “Crusonia Plant”?
To finish off the book, Tyler cautions the reader that increasing uncertainty within our world should not deter us from making right and measured decisions. Even the most certain of outcomes can never guarantee itself. As individuals, we need to develop tolerant demeanours and remain agnostic, and always be ready to steer our strategies down different directions; but ultimately strive towards sustaining long-term growth. Only with sustained growth can we be free to consider alternative forms of happiness, produce more wealth and prosperity, and be behave responsibly in the marketplace.