The Economics of Happiness urges us to go local to solve environmental, economic and human problems caused by globalization. Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick and John Page direct.
Labor of love
Diverse, multicultural views abound here. Five years in the making, the documentary spans six continents. It is now available on DVD.
Eight “inconvenient truths” about globalization are described. Globalization breeds insecurity. It wastes natural resources, destroys livelihoods and accelerates climate change. Overall, it makes us unhappy.
You might be surprised to learn that globalization is wasteful and inefficient. Government hand-outs to big business and false accounting support it.
Tale of the Ladakhis
Ladakh, or “Little Tibet,” a village in the western Himalayas, is shown before and after globalization. Happy people are shown living sustainably on their land. All Ladakhis had spacious homes and plenty of leisure time. Community activities flourished. There was no unemployment.
Ladakh was opened to tourists in the mid-1970s. Subsidized roads were built to deliver subsidized, processed foods. This undermined the local farming economy, says Norberg-Hodge. Unemployment, depression and conflict followed. Air and water pollution appeared. Western advertising made folk ways seem passé.
Outside economic pressure “created intense competition, breaking down community and the connection to nature that had been the cornerstone of Ladakhi culture for centuries,” she explains.
Having more means less
Psychiatrists speak out about rising levels of depression in the West. Striving to measure up to media images of affluence, “there is a constant pressure on people to have bigger, better, more,” says psychotherapist Mary-Jayne Rust. “It doesn’t bring us happiness.”
Boston College professor Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude, notes that multinational corporations drive the food and entertainment choices of children. Comparison and competition exploit greed, says Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Children feel pressured to emulate Western culture.
Ecologies, resources depleted
“Encouraging consumerism threatens the ecological fabric of the entire planet. Natural resources are already stretched to the breaking point by population pressures,” Norberg-Hodge explains.
“It’s a terrific onslaught of marketing, merchandising, advertising, brainwashing,” says Balaji Shankar of India’s Kumarappa Foundation.
“The very logic of globalization requires that goods travel ever-longer distances from producer to consumer,” says Norberg-Hodge. “Because of hidden subsidies and skewed regulations, food from the other side of the world tends to cost less than food from a mile away.”
We pay for waste, inefficiency
Government subsidies fuel tremendous waste, according to Zac Goldsmith, Member of the UK Parliament. “Tuna caught on the East Coast of America is flown to Japan, packaged, then shipped back. English apples are flown to South Africa to be waxed, then flown back again to be sold.”
Fuel oil use and greenhouse gas emissions soar as goods crisscross the world.
Treaties such as NAFTA say that international trade will promote economic growth. Yet countries routinely import and export almost identical amounts of the same products such as potatoes, sugar, beef and coffee.
Mergers, takeovers and relocation of business to low wage countries threatens livelihoods, says Norberg-Hodge.
The situation is dire for displaced farmers in the Third World. “The present development model encourages urbanization, and intentionally works to reduce the number of farmers,” says Pracha Hutanuwatr, a leader in engaged Buddhist initiatives.
“All those displaced farmers have nowhere to go but the city, where they become cheap labor for industry, for investment from abroad,” he says.
Human rights crisis
“All we want is our land,” say Indian farmers. “Give us our land and we’ll work hard to make something, to make a life.”
“Removing people from the land is the root of all unemployment,” says Vandana Shiva, a Right Livelihood Award winner and author of Monocultures of the Mind. Shiva notes that “100,000 Indian farmers have been driven to suicide” as they lose their livelihoods.
Forced off the land into cities, religious and ethnic groups are forced to compete for few available jobs, says the film.
Free markets are not free
“The irony is that the majority of really polluting things that are happening today would not exist within a genuine free market,” Goldsmith says. States pay massive subsidies for monoculture farming, fossil fuel mining and nuclear power.
“It would be impossible to maintain the current global economy as it is today without enormous support from governments around the world. We’re about as far away from the free market as it’s possible to be,” he adds.
Economic growth at any cost?
More economic growth is touted as the answer to poverty, unemployment and environmental decline.
“Not only our economies but our societies, our political systems, the entire culture is focused on making sure that our GDP [gross domestic product] grows as fast as possible,” says Clive Hamilton, author of The Growth Fetish.
“Using GDP as a measure of societal progress is little short of madness,” Norberg-Hodge elaborates. “If there’s an oil spill, GDP goes up. If the water is so polluted we have to buy it in bottles, GDP goes up. War, cancer, epidemic illnesses . . . involve an exchange of money, and that means that they end up on the positive side of the balance sheet.”
Unplugging the corporations
Bailouts to big banks, stimulus packages to encourage consumer spending, and carbon trading schemes just keep a broken system afloat, the film says.
Small, local farms can produce substantially more food per acre and provide far more jobs, according to research.
Gross National Happiness
The term Gross National Happiness was coined by the King of Bhutan in 1972. He went on to incorporate it in Bhutan’s development policy. Following his lead, world economists have begun to develop more meaningful measures of well being and prosperity.
One example of this is the Genuine Progress Index (GPI). Ron Colman, executive director of GPI Atlantic, explains that GPI takes into account human, community and natural wealth in addition to produced, material wealth. GPI “counts full social and environmental and economic benefits and costs.”
The Economics of Happiness calls for the removal of fiscal and other supports from giant, transnational corporations and banks.
Measuring progress locally
Small business and local economies can generate wealth in more equitable, sustainable ways. “If you shorten the distance between producers and consumers,” says Goldsmith, “you’re putting money straight back into the local economy where it’s desperately needed.”
Going local means that governments will re-evaluate what they regulate, tax and subsidize. Subsidies for renewable energies and mass transit are suggested.
Banking with local credit unions means that your dollars go to local economies. Ecovillages and post-carbon cities are on the rise. City governments are investing more locally. All these support local jobs and tax revenues.
Farmers’ markets allow consumers to pay less and farmers to earn more. Community is fostered at local markets.
The Economics of Happiness is mostly unhappy. It documents problems thoroughly and outlines solutions briefly.
The Economics of Happiness / 2011 / NR / 1 hour, 8 min
Cast Overview: Helena Norberg-Hodge, Mary-Jayne Rust, Juliet Schor, Samdhong Rinpoche, Balaji Shankar, Zac Goldsmith, Pracha Hutanuwatr, Vandana Shiva, Clive Hamilton, David Korten, Ron Colman
Directors: Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick, John Page
Genres: Documentary, Economics, New Thought