Saturday, December 10, 2016

Economic growth versus quality of life; how to gauge progress

"Therefore, as we try to reform the Democratic strategy, it's necessary, as Herbert Marcuse once said, to promote a values transformation, away from the cruel, competitive performances and unrestrained expectations of consumer capitalism and toward a simpler, less hurried, more cooperative way of life, where work sharing is at least as important a strategy to reduce unemployment as federal jobs programs.
It's necessary to understand that the values of affluenza, about which I have written at length, spur endless competition for scarce resources, and result in the overwork Bernie Sanders criticizes, as well as our declining health, our lack of social purpose, our lack of enough leisure time to be good, informed citizens and volunteer in our communities, and a host of other ills. To begin, we need to make the case that we need a new measure of well-being -- indeed, one former Democratic presidential candidate, Martin O'Malley, has been a leader in developing a Genuine Progress Indicator, but such ideas never entered the debates. They should be part of our future vision.
A less acquisitive society with less focus on 'hard work' will not be a poor one, either materially, or more importantly, in terms of quality of life. This is a point that must be made and something Bobby Kennedy knew back in 1968, when he first spoke out eloquently against the Gross National Product. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency studies show that 30 hours of work a week may well be optimal for well-being -- 30-hour workers outperform 40- or 50-hour workers in almost every quality of life measure -- life satisfaction, work satisfaction, time satisfaction, health, and importantly, in this time of climate change, lower greenhouse gas emissions."

Even a simplistic look at economic theory shows this obsession with growth is impossible. We need to step back and rethink how we gauge where we are as a society.  Are we getting better or worse?  How can we tell if we're going in the right direction?  What can we do to make life for more people better?  What does better mean?  THIS is the discussion we should be having.

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