Enlightened Economics

Economics for an Enlightened Age

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

• Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

Posted by Ron Robins on April 12, 2011

By Ron Robins. First published March 31, 2011, in his weekly economics and finance column at alrroya.com

Unacknowledged as key causes of most developed countries’ growing and unsustainable debt is their citizens’ lack of happiness and well being. This induces people to seek immediate comfort in material goods, drugs, and activities and lifestyles that eventually cause them, and their societies, great harm, ill health, and massive debt!

After decades of study, Robert E. Lane, the Eugene Meyer Professor Emeritus of Political Science, at Yale University in the US, found that it is a lack of happiness and well being that is eating away the moral fibre of the populations in advanced market democracies. In Professor Lane’s seminal book, Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, he writes, “amidst the satisfaction people feel with their material progress, there is a spirit of unhappiness and depression haunting advanced market democracies throughout the world, a spirit that mocks the idea that markets maximise well-being and the eighteenth-century promise of a right to the pursuit of happiness under benign governments of peoples choosing.”

Continuing, “the haunting spirit is manifold: a postwar decline in the United States in people who report themselves happy, a rising tide in all advanced societies of clinical depression and dysphoria [anxiety, malaise], especially among the young; increasing distrust of each other and of political and other institutions, declining belief that the lot of the average man is getting better, a tragic erosion of family solidarity and community integration together with an apparent decline in warm, intimate relations among friends.”

It is these conditions which Professor Lane observes that give rise to individuals seeking immediate comfort anyway they can. Hence, most developed countries’ populations gravitate to instant solutions that might ameliorate their lack of happiness and anxieties. This, no matter the long term monetary, psychological, or physical consequences and costs to themselves or society. Professor Lane believes it is imperative for western democracies to give the highest priority to improving the happiness and well being of its individuals. And this means their focus should be on human psychological health and relationships—not about income levels.

By looking for hedonistic joys in the present, many developed countries’ individuals seek excessive material consumption which then creates unsustainable levels of consumer debt. In the US, though to a lesser degree in other developed countries, consumer debt has grown far faster than individual earnings gains over the past several decades. Despite a respite in consumer debt growth during the past two years, signs are emerging that US consumer debt might well begin to outpace actual earnings gains again in 2011, thereby creating conditions for yet another future financial crisis.

Also, and again much ignored in the debate concerning debt, are other individual behaviours that induce it. For example, to provide a modicum of happiness and to make life more bearable, people in America (and in many developed countries) consume drugs (legally and illegally) in extraordinary amounts. These drugs—alcoholic beverages, marijuana, cocaine, cigarettes, prescribed and non-prescribed medications, etc.—often create dependencies that impair health, brain and psychological functioning. These dependencies then lead to greater crime to support drug habits, increase prison populations and criminal/legal costs, raise the number of accidents everywhere, and encourage unhealthy lifestyles that in turn produce epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and all manner of health problems.

Americans spend more on healthcare, by far, than anyone else. In 2009, according to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, Americans spent $8,086 per person on healthcare, equal to 17.6 per cent of their economic output or gross domestic product (GDP). And such expenditures continue spiralling 4 to 10 per cent a year, far faster than GDP itself. Thereby they add inexorably to future unfunded US federal government medical liabilities that Boston University’s Professor Laurence Kotlikoff believes is about $125 trillion over an infinite timeframe. To fund that liability would require every man, woman and child in America to pay about $407,000 to the US federal treasury!

And among public companies a short term focus on near term profits that potentially create longer term costs and debt has been endemic. Consider this 2001 quote by Maryann Keller on the US automobile industry. In Forbes magazine, she said, “[That] Chrysler, GM and Ford spent billions of dollars to buy their stock in the open market… It was always obvious that product spending [developing new autos] was being sacrificed to provide trading liquidity [ease of selling stock] for big investors while boosting earnings per share. GM, Ford and the Chrysler Group today [in 2001] find themselves with growing gaps in their product portfolios as they lose market share…”

Thus, the US automobile industry preferred to spend profits on supporting their near term stock prices rather than developing new products for longer term profits. By 2009 all but Ford were bankrupt. After losing tens of thousands of jobs and engaging in a massive automobile industry restructuring program, the US government bailed out the industry (for now?) at a cost of about $85 billion. (Canadian governments also supported GM and Chrysler to the tune of $13.5bn CAD.)

Total societal US debt (private, corporate and government) is now likely to continue moving higher again as consumers are forever encouraged to spend now while saving is discouraged due to artificially mandated low rates. Increasing employment, though welcome, is not likely the answer to mounting unsustainable societal debt. In fact, it might well exacerbate it if former long term trends of debt growth outpacing income gains continue.

The US, like most other developed countries, is on a path to increased human suffering and tragic financial circumstances unless it deals with the fundamental issue: enabling individuals and families to become intrinsically happier and experience feelings of greater well being. Only then can the compulsion towards short term thinking and gratification—which builds huge unsustainable long term debt—be stopped.

Copyright alrroya.com

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Posted in Consciousness/Psychology, Economics, Labour Issues, Spiritual | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

• ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ Brings Higher Consciousness into Economics

Posted by Ron Robins on February 3, 2009

A sweeping new consumer frugality is enveloping the developed world bringing higher consciousness into economic affairs. Some call it ‘voluntary simplicity.’ And it ties in well with my thesis that as a more balanced, higher consciousness arises in consumers, their consumptive and savings habits will change significantly and more sustainably. Thus, I believe the age of Enlightened Economics is ahead us.

Voluntary Simplicity defined

The term voluntary simplicity (VS) according to the Simple Living Network is first thought to have been used by “Richard Gregg who, in 1936, was describing a way of life marked by a new balance between inner and outer growth.” Some might argue that numerous people are being forced into VS-as the unemployed might be, for instance. There is some truth to that. Nonetheless, I believe that most of us are sensing a new reality dawning in the consumptive habits of almost everyone around us.

For example, more and more people in developed countries are realizing that their lives have become so dominated by material possessions that the caring, maintenance and use of some of these possessions take too much of their time, energy and money! (i.e. ‘McMansions,’ large homes for just two or three people are going out of style.) They are also realizing that many of these products are damaging to the environment. Thus, a degree of frugality is coming to be seen by countless numbers of people as the way forward. It is important to understand though, that this VS style of living is not to be compared with an agrarian ‘back to nature’ lifestyle, nor related to material impoverishment.

The Simple Living Network states that the values underlying VS are: material simplicity, human scale, self-determination, ecological awareness, and personal growth. These personal values are often attributed to individuals of higher consciousness, and mesh well with the understanding of Enlightened Economics, which believes that with rich inner development of our minds will come the ability to fulfill our individual and collective economic aspirations.

The exact numbers of individuals abiding by the VS lifestyle, either knowingly, or unknowingly, are not known. But it is apparent that its ranks are growing fast. Evidence of this is seen in the cutting back of material consumption, increased spending on education, and a deepening interest in the environment, personal growth and spirituality.

Modern economies lose their way as happiness fades

Economics should be about assisting us in fulfilling our dreams while allowing us to enjoy great happiness and fulfillment in life. However, as practised today economics is sorely lacking in achieving such goals. In fact, when looking at measures of happiness, authoritative research by Dr. Robert Lane of Yale University, shows happiness actually declines as GDP grows! Other studies such as the one by Prof. Arthur A. Stone, of Stoney Brook University School of Medicine, demonstrate that happiness is unrelated to income.

People in developed countries everywhere are beginning to understand the deep flaws of a modern life based principally on the acquisition of material possessions. Hence, our lifestyles are increasingly favouring the nourishment of our subjective values and inner development, over outer material goods.

The coming era of voluntary simplicity

VS lifestyles encourage more entrepreneurship, independence, self-employment, the purchase and manufacture of sustainable products and services, lower debt levels, reduced consumption, and higher savings rates plus a tendency to save and pay cash for purchases. (For related reading, see my editorial on the Investing for the Soul website, Everyone Becoming A Cultural Creative.)

With society favouring qualitative and subjective values related to lifestyle, there will be considerably less emphasis on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistic. This statistic simply totals the market value of all final goods and services sold. New economic measures that include quality of life factors will become the norm. These other measures might include the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), and variants of them.

The economic transformation giving rise to voluntary simplicity

Almost nobody in the mainstream economic community predicted our present circumstances, illustrating the deplorable state of economics in our institutions today. They naively believed it was fine for debt to grow exponentially while incomes stagnated and savings crashed. And then they wondered why the consumer stopped spending and acting more frugally. It’s amazing how such brilliant minds could get it so very wrong. It was primarily only those (like myself) adhering to the ignored and maligned Austrian School of economics who largely got it right.

People in developed countries are increasingly favouring more non-material growth that is founded on higher inner values, knowledge, simplicity and sustainability. They will not abandon material joys, but the emergence of VS is telling us that long-held so-called economic ‘truths’ are shattering before us. An age of Enlightened Economics is being born.

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© Ron Robins, 2009.

Posted in Consciousness/Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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