Monday, December 17, 2012

Wellbeing versus wealth

Kirk Huffman was interviewed by Sean Dorney recently on ABC Radio National about the Alternative Indicators of Wellbeing in Melanesia Report, which attempts to convince 'economists that wellbeing, contentment, security of traditional land tenure, community relations are actually more important than money'.

Dorney asked Huffman about some of the findings and impact of the report that came out a few months ago — when we had a post announcing the publication. Here are some more key quotes from the audio-interview and transcript available from the link above:
Traditional lifestyles or modified traditional lifestyles actually give an awful lot of security and contentment. They are not poor! This is the mistake that economists make. They think, 'Oh, they've got no money so they're poor.' That's wrong. The province in Vanuatu that's got the highest levels of contentment and satisfaction and everything is Torba Province right up in the far north which is the area of Vanuatu that receives the least of various glitterati things or the bling things from the modern world. And that's where the levels of contentment and happiness are actually the highest. It turns out that some of the most important things of course is land. Something like 92 per cent of people surveyed have access, traditional access to land in Vanuatu ...

... The Alternative Indicators of Wellbeing in Melanesia Report is already available online in the French speaking world. The French economists - it's very interesting - French economists and French philosophers and thinkers picked up on it immediately. Absolutely immediately. And even though the report at the moment is only out in English it's available on French websites that deal with important philosophical questions. The French speaking world is living in the Age of Enlightenment sort of period where there's intense debate on philosophical questions of great importance. The English speaking world has lost that! The English speaking world is, sort of, unfortunately, become more concerned with just business, jobs and, you know, bling and various things like that.
This news item, with its singular message about the weaknesses of a monetary framing of our future, can be contrasted with one from the Guardian (1 December), 'Gross national happiness in Bhutan: The big idea from a tiny state that could change the world', by Annie Kelly Thimphu, which reveals the contradictory and undermining forces of upholding 'happiness' without withdrawing support for production for trade and money, and monetary evaluations:
Despite its focus on national wellbeing, Bhutan faces huge challenges. It remains one of the poorest nations on the planet. A quarter of its 800,000 people survive on less than $1.25 a day, and 70% live without electricity. It is struggling with a rise in violent crime, a growing gang culture and the pressures of rises in both population and global food prices.

It also faces an increasingly uncertain future. Bhutan's representatives at the Doha climate talks are warning that its gross national happiness model could crumble in the face of increasing environmental and social pressures and climatic change.

'The aim of staying below a global two-degree temperature increase being discussed here this week is not sufficient for us. We are a small nation, we have big challenges and we are trying our best, but we can't save our environment on our own,' says Thinley Namgyel, who heads Bhutan's climate change division. 'Bhutan is a mountainous country, highly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. We have a population that is highly dependent on the agricultural sector. We are banking on hydropower as the engine that will finance our development.'

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