We recently found out that again we find ourselves in a period of sustained economic decline: recession. Because we recently experienced recession in 2008/9, this second recession is known as a double dip recession but the media does little to shed real light on what this really means. Instead, both the media and the government seem intent only on the drama: poor economic growth = bad, no economic growth = catastrophic. What I would really like to know is why does it matter? (If you are expecting THE answer here, leave now.)
Progressive thinkers, corporations, economists, social scientists, commentators and citizens have fired the debate on what really matters. With all manner of dialogue on happiness and well-being, sustainability, it’s hard to escape the progressive new wave.
You know what I’m talking about. The stuff that sounds a bit new age, and that often one reflects on: hm yeah, sounds great, but I really can’t see this changing in my company/life/country/house any time soon – I mean I hardly have time to go shopping, and when I do I certainly want a nice sum of cash to go with, let alone measure my happiness index ….
Now, I could literally sit here for days and talk about all that – I won’t. There are much more interesting commentators with wise words to speak on these matters (places to start include NEF, TED and so on), so, I’m not going to. Instead we’re going to do data time, because we all love a bit of data* (all courtesy of Good Public Data/Word Bank).
GDP growth is on the up and minus a few current Greek/Irish/Spanish/Italian/British/Euromeltdown hiccups, we are, generally all getting a bit richer …
And we are living longer (life expectancy) ….
So far so good … I mean, we’re even eating more cereal! (KG cereal production per hectare) …
But here comes the bad bit …
We’re using so much more electricity and if we don’t come up with an alternative, we’ll pull all of the carbon out of the earth and put it in the air we breathe …. (power consumption kWh)
So the million Drachma/Dollar/Euro question – are we getting happier??
So does the growth thing really matter ? If there is no growth, will we all die? No. Not immediately, but we would have to change the way we live in the short and long term. Companies won’t expand, so the whole market stabilises. Meaning there might be less movement of people between companies. But would that happen? It’s likely we will always have all growth – that’s the consensus. But what if that’s not the case, what if equilibrium is where we are heading and what if, just for argument sakes, that isn’t such a bad thing. We will have pockets of growth driven by fewer but more powerful market forces. We would be closer to equilibrium right? Like in an experiment? If there are less molecules going from one side of a chemical equation to the other, then we are closer to equilibrium. A steady state. And maybe this is where happiness lies.
Happiness. Something we all want and strive for. An indicator I’d imagine most if not all people if they were being honest, would say is the realindicator for human development. But not totally surprising is rarely if ever used as an indicator of development for richer or poorer. Economics after all, usually looks at what people DO and not how people FEEL, or what people SAY. BUT …. I FOUND SOME HAPPINESS DATA!
I won’t go into happiness economics, it’s a massive subject area and can get pretty philosophical, but I will say is the data, generally doesn’t show we have got happier in the last 50 years and before that there wasn’t any data so we can only guess.
So we’re getting richer, and now that is slowing down, but we’re not really getting happier. So does growth matter? Of course it does. But does it matter more than happiness of us and the health of our planet? No way.
A great reflection of how non-progressive a society we really are then that governments are so intent on pushing economic growth as their number one agenda. It’s a question of motivation. Money motivates people and a consequence of that, in the right fertile environment, you get economic growth.
The chase, the kill – the ups the downs
Maybe if we didn’t care so much about getting rich (individually or a society) we would be happier. Maybe if we could all somehow realise that if we can be motivated by happiness and that need not be predicated by wealth, or spending, if we could spend more time not thinking and behaving so closely with money, then maybe we’d all be a little bit happier. Then of course we might start to think about how we can change our whole culture towards a happier value system altogether.
I say this yet I am totally motivated by money. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t, and yet I class myself amongst the liberals. So why? The thrill of the chase is one element, what would replace this? And the second element is the result – what we get out of it. Well we could still set up businesses and convince people to buy our products, but if we weren’t getting relatively higher amounts, then there is no value on the size of the kill. So yes, you need the result as well as the chase. I killed a baby zebra and brought it home to the lair. I killed a baby elephant and brought it home to the lair. This is much more easily quantifiable – the end goal, more food for the family, is much more quantifiable – and as such it is a reflection on oneself and therefore goes to the core of our beliefs, and yes our motivations. Making money is similar, it puts the size on it – obviously of course, nothing new here, that’s why capitalism is such an amazing and until now unsuccessfully challenged system. No other system provides a single way to quantify value of things as money, and as such nothing yet has come close to replacing it as the global social and economic driver.
Most of us don’t really know what we want and so we put money in the cross hairs. It gives us something to focus on. This happens with work, and it happens with life. If we don’t know what we really want to do, and there are many of us in that boat, then the salary/bonus/next sale becomes the focus. We see it with shopping too. Most of what we buy on the high street is down to retail therapy. It provides instant gratification. It makes us happy, albeit temporarily, and so we don’t really have to think about what makes us truly happy – will can just fill the void, and if it we do it over and over, so it becomes habitual, well – we don’t really have to ever think about it. But we should, we should all think about it – if only a little bit more every day, and if we did we might all be a little less focused on the economic change and more on happiness.