From a global population of around one million at the start of the 19th Century the world has exploded to a population of 7.1 billion which means that 14% of all humans who have walked the Earth are alive today. It is predicted that, even with a major war or pandemic, the population of the world will continue to rise to 9 billion by 2050.
Western style material growth catering for this number of
people is a threat to the Earth’s survival and the only way to address the problem is with western aid in the form of family planning
programs, alternative energy technologies, sustainable farming techniques, culturally evolved health systems and infrastructures made
from renewable resources. Changing the socioeconomic situation of a region doesn’t require huge amounts of money if social capital
is targeted for growth using education and technologies moulded around the natural resources at hand and focussed on areas of ‘comparative
advantage’. Good governance springs from good education and with the advantage of enthusiastic ‘cheap’ labour, developing nations
can export traditional produce in exchange for technologies that improve living standards. The primary goal should be equality and
social integration across the ‘artificial’ borders of neighboring sovereign states.
Western style material growth catering for this number of people is a threat to the Earth’s survival and the only way to address the problem is with western aid in the form of family planning programs, alternative energy technologies, sustainable farming techniques, culturally evolved health systems and infrastructures made from renewable resources.
Changing the socioeconomic situation of a region doesn’t require huge amounts of money if social capital is targeted for growth using education and technologies moulded around the natural resources at hand and focussed on areas of ‘comparative advantage’.
Good governance springs from good education and with the advantage of enthusiastic ‘cheap’ labour, developing nations can export traditional produce in exchange for technologies that improve living standards. The primary goal should be equality and social integration across the ‘artificial’ borders of neighboring sovereign states.
In July 2011 the United Nations initiated the collection of research data relating to the happiness of its member nations; then in April 2012 a World Happiness Report was presented at a UN meeting titled – ‘Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm’.The Report makes the statement:
‘While basic living standards are essential for happiness, after the baseline has been met happiness varies more with quality of human relationships than income. Other policy goals should include high employment and high-quality work; a strong community with high levels of trust and respect, which government can influence through inclusive participatory policies; improved physical and mental health; support of family life; and a decent education for all.’
Eighty five countries were ranked for happiness and wellbeing with seven north European countries being in the top ten along with Canada, Iceland and Australia; with America at seventeenth behind Mexico and just in front of Ireland.
Three quarters of the variation between countries was attributed to six factors: GDP per capita, life expectancy, someone to count on, freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and the generosity of others. (Data came from the Gallup World Poll, the European Social Survey and the World Values Survey.)
The World Values Survey is a global network of social scientists that have interviewed some 400,000
people on the subject of socioeconomic factors that affect an individual’s sense of wellbeing. The presentation of data in the graph
below, called the ‘Inglehart Values Map', compares cross cultural values. The tendency is for ‘social wellbeing’ to inhabit the
top right hand corner aligned with rational/self expressive values while negative social wellbeing tends to the bottom left coinciding
with traditional/survival values - make your own conclusions!
The richest 85 people in the world own as much as the bottom half of the world’s population and part of the continuity of inequality relies on the manipulation of money markets behind the machinery of economic growth; so perhaps the developed world would be better served by a ‘steady state economy’ where money is recycled rather than grown.
A country’s true wealth resides in its knowledge, skills, intelligence, training, experience and wisdom so why not directly grow human and social capital? The world does not have to operate via the circuitous, uncertain and prejudiced road of economic growth!
An Oxford University Working Paper (April, 2014) on ‘post- industrious’ society commences with the Introduction:
‘... Keynes looked to technological change to bring about a work-week of just 10 or 12 hours. He was reiterating JS Mill’s 1848 prediction of the emergence within two or three generations, of an economic “steady state”, a view also espoused by Keynes’ own (economist) father. A regular modest growth in economic productivity, the result of technical innovation, “operating like compound interest”, in Keynes phrase, would lead fairly immediately to the satisfaction of all reasonable human wants.’
It seems that the ‘human wants’ of 21st Century tycoons are never satisfied no matter how many things they own. Their recreation is a game of Monopoly and governments are viewed as impediments to their economic fetishes. It’s hard to comprehend how big business believes they are benefiting the country via economic growth when the facts of family income share clearly show otherwise and the spin offs are evident in global warming and dwindling natural resources.
The Paris School of Economics Professor, Thomas Piketty, has recently written a book in which he proposes a global wealth tax to avert the continuing and inevitable inequality created by current economic theory:
‘Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality—the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth—today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values.’
‘Work has come to offer the sort of pleasures that rich people used to seek in their time off. On the flip side, leisure is no longer a sign of social power. Instead it symbolizes uselessness and unemployment.’ - The Economist: Why the Rich now have less leisure than the Poor (April, 2014)
The 13th Century philosopher and poet Maulana Rumi believed that ‘...man has come into this world for a particular task, and that is his purpose; if he does not perform it, then he will have done nothing.’ With a slightly different slant mythologist Joseph Campbell infers a purpose that is a bit like the nose on your face: ‘Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.’
Campbell and Rumi are both talking about natural endeavour – a sense of purpose that goes beyond the formal workplace. Regardless of the economic worth of an individual’s endeavour,the most important thing is that a person be engaged in activities that expand their personal horizons while connecting them to the rest of humanity.
The definition of life includes the ability to evolve, so a person who doesn’t have direction and motivation is not truly alive - and that person will probably admit to not being happy since the nature of life is antithetical to inertia. Periods of inactivity and laziness should be viewed as periods of transition that will eventually lead somewhere.
Given a stable population the man whose interest is the sale of goods or services has a fixed cliental and that cliental needs money to pay for purchases. If a person is interested in artistic endeavours for which there is little paid demand then the government needs to supply safety net money which will then be recycled via purchases. The government then taxes those with the greater wealth so as to maintain equality since matters of wealth do not have innate merit over artistic, philosophical, educational or any other pathway of self-improvement.
Without a constant growth in population there can only be a certain amount of material necessities that need to be produced to meet demand; beyond that, materialism starts to be a drag on creative time and a negative influence on social interaction. In realising the negative effects of wealth accumulation, it then becomes the duty of government to protect the accumulator from his own antisocial vices.
Sociologists agree that work, paid or unpaid, is a psychological necessity. The first imperative of developing social capital is to provide a job for every person desiring one and a safety net for those who don’t. Minimum wages and safety net money are always recycled to the benefit of the entrepreneur while contributing to the general wellbeing of society.
(Note that unemployment rates are one of the least helpful indicators of the labour market since they don’t tell us about hours worked, the nature of the work, the desire for full or part time employment, the time spent out of work, or the number of people who have given up finding work.)
Governments should also create infrastructures for full time employment and to do this we need the opposite to downsizing – we need to renew labour intensive occupations. Downsizing concentrates money into fewer and fewer hands while labour intensive job creation shares the money, and if the employment suits the individual then quality products and services should result.
Rather than planned obsolescence we need hands-on manufacturing and repair shops, not just for material goods but in the medicine of life styles and health care. If we are to improve what John Stuart Mill called the ‘Art of Living’ then we also need to invest in education, research, sport, entertainment and most importantly of all - the production and distribution of quality food.