Gross World Product vs. Gross National Happiness

I have always argued that corporations and their pursuit of profit is largely damaging to society socially and environmentally. Particularly in light of the recent community support against sledge dumping in the Great Barrier Reef. However without Mark Zuckerberg’s ingenious corporation Facebook would we indeed have been able to galvanise such support as effectively? These three academics discuss their view on the pursuit of economic growth.

  • Dr Chris Dey, Senior Researcher (Physics) at the University of Sydney believes the world’s fundamental physical limits come before economic limits with economic growth ‘the strongest doctorate in society, more so than religion’.
  • Dr Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist that focuses on ‘Gross National Happiness’ as opposed to ‘Gross World Product’.  Dr Shiva questions the popularity of the term GDP and believes it to be more reflective of ‘an abstract number that can destroy everything that is real that sustains us socially and ecologically and it measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile’. Dr Shiva discusses how debt in India is pushing farmers to commit suicide with ‘annihilation of life the consequence of growth…the multiplication of money to mobilise others and not all’.
  • Durkheim argues that contemporary work societies, otherwise now known as market societies focus on organic forms of solidarity which ‘foster a sense of disconnection and alienation’ associated with higher rates of suicide.

However, when you begin to unravel the complexities of the economy you can deduce that corporations do also increase social capital.  It sounds outlandish I know, even for me…

  • Ross Gittins, Senior Economics Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald discussed how reduced consumption can also reduce employment and this in itself creates a dysfunctional society at a recent Sustainability forum.  Obama asks major corporates in the US to create jobs to curb their unemployment rate.
  • For centuries work has been vital in organising millions of people and minimising the impact of anti-social behaviour.  Unilever alone has created jobs for over 200,000 people worldwide.
  • Through creating favourable policies for transnational corporations Singapore was able to increase real income and employment with an increase in public revenues resulting in increased expenditure on health, housing and education (Hobson & Ramesh 2010).  Singaporeans saw the stable global economy that had been constructed critical to increased social capital and the State was favoured by most (Hobson & Ramesh 2010).
  • Galbraith discusses the positive attributes of consumption with many products enabling good health, happiness, social achievement or improved community standing (Galbraith 1972).  Over 95% of households in the UK, Canada, Indonesia and Vietnam use Unilever products each year (Roach 2005).

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Interestingly, at the recent Sustainability Forum by Collaborate Lab on Collaborative Consumption, Air BNB and Garage Sale Trail propose their sustainable business models around reuse and recycling.   It is evident though that the two Managing Directors of both organisations are happy to use the commercial acumen and sound profit making business models acquired from those corporations with which they condemn!

The World Trade Organisation is responsible for determining the rules governing international trade but is renowned for its ‘free trade committment’ (Stilwell 2012).  The State can impose tighter regulations on the market but often its the State that relies on the market in achieving a fully functioning society.  For example, the NSW Government’s re brand to ‘NSW Now, the new State of Business’ with the aim to attract international investment to build the infrastructure required to sustain employment.

The solution could be to impose tighter restrictions on trade  but what about the rules the State places on society like the new 1:30am lock out rule to reduce alcohol fuelled violence? When do we ever follow all the rules imposed on us anyway! Should corporates be expected to as well?

An example of the market overthrowing Government policy was the mining tax proposed in 2010 to curb ‘super profits’, which mining companies retaliated through political advertising resulting in the tax becoming only a modest reform.  In contrast, in 2012, Australia’s Health Minister announced the plain packaging policy to reduce tobacco related issues (SMH 2014).  Large global tobacco companies invested heavily in advertising and other tactics but were unsuccessful in overturning this policy, demonstrating the resilience required by policy makers in serving the best interests of citizens as oppose to corporations.

The challenge is to ‘engineer a new balance between market and society, one that will continue to unleash the creative energies of private entrepreneurship without eroding the social basis of cooperation’ (Guillen 2001). From the detrimental health impacts tobacco firms perpetuate to the life saving medicines developed by pharmaceutical firms,  society has faced challenges for centuries and it seems there is valid place in society for corporations after all.

http://clivehamilton.com/books/growth-fetish/

Tax. “The Budget”. NDIS. No comprende? Mucho importante.

I have avoided trying to understand the complexities of anything finance related my whole life.  I knew taxes existed, I always paid them, I knew they were partly used to subsidise ‘communal’ services and that they went to the Government…but that’s about the extent of my knowledge on tax. Until recently.

I was asked to complete an analysis of the FY14 Commonwealth Budget and boy was I excited!  Not really.  However, in pushing through this riveting piece of work I discovered that I genuinely found it interesting.  I decided to concentrate my analysis on the reform of key welfare initiatives and finished it feeling a lot less mystified and repelled by the notion of tax.

Did you know 35% of our taxes in Australia go toward supporting the welfare of our citizens? New initiatives like the National Disability Insurance scheme which will see a $20.3b investment over 7 years, will sure go a long way to providing much needed support to people with disability.  People with disability is a phrase that describes the 460,000 Australians who are less able than most as well as family, friends, carers or organisations that actively support them (Budget 13-14 2013 NDIS Policy).  The scheme will see increased supports so that people with disability can exercise more choice and control over their lives and achieve their full potential.  This in turn maximises the potential of the support networks of those with disability by broadening the support available to them.

Commonwealth Budget 13-14

I was recently privileged to hear Sally Richards (Australian disability advocate) speak at the International People with Disability Day.  One of Sally’s four sons was born severely intellectually disabled with her husband taking his own life a few years ago, unable to cope with the added pressure while battling mental illness.  I was truly moved by Sally’s story and her commitment to ensuring that people with disability are able to make a valid contribution in society.  Sally’s amazing courage, determination and sacrifice have led her son to now live in his own townhouse, with a carer, and work part time delivering mail.  Sally believes the NDIS is just one more step in fostering better access and inclusion for people with disability, which then has the flow on effect of supporting carers and family members in maximising their potential too.

For Australians not living with disability the increase in Medicare levy from 1.5%-2% of taxable income may not be welcomed, although this is an incremental investment compared to the $20.3 billion forecast to be generated for people with disability as a result of the increase in Medicare levy. We will all be touched by disability at some point in our lives, whether we obtain a disability or know someone who requires assistance.  DisabilityCare Australia will also incorporate the National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS), ensuring those who are affected by a ‘catastrophic’ injury can receive supports on a no-fault basis with reduced litigation and greater access to care required (Budget 13-14 2013 NDIS Policy).

http://everyaustraliancounts.com.au

Policymakers and Treasury aim to strike a balance between the State’s economic priorities and social outcomes through varying the investment allocated to certain initiatives every financial year. The key initiatives across welfare reform demonstrate a focus on research for informed policy making, inflation adjustments and labour force participation incentives to drive increased spending.  Effective budget allocation ensures resources are allocated to increase social capital through reducing the costs of anti-social behaviour and driving social cohesion for a fully functioning society which results in a strong economy (Cox 1995).

A chemically altered consciousness

Drugs.   Chemical cocktails for the mind and body.  Defined by Google as ‘a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.’

I recently attended Peter Hitchens ‘There is no war on drugs’ debate at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.  A campaign Peter appears committed to after experiencing the fall out of cannabis use by a friend’s son.  It could be argued, that illicit drugs are taken to temporarily (or permanently in the case of addiction) detach oneself from reality and one’s current state of consciousness.

I think his debate was largely unqualified and walked out when he started questioning the validity of prescription drugs…Thousands of life saving drugs have been developed over the past few centuries to improve the quality of life of those who are ill (mentally or physically). However, no academically awarded medical practitioner has scientifically concluded that the benefits of taking illicit drugs outweigh the costs to either yourself or others.

You can tell the difference when an academic presents compared to a journalist.  I’m still unsure if Mr Hitchens has tried illicit drugs? His address still sparked a debate internally about the social fallout of illicit drug consumption, which cannot be denied. Social in the context of ‘partying’ perhaps but not so social in the context of violence, crime, addiction, deteriorating health and poverty.

http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/national-drug-strategic-framework-lp

2010 Household Drug Survey

*Australian Institute of Health & Welfare

  • Recent illicit drug use (use in the previous 12 months) rose from 13.4% of the population aged 14 and over in 2007 to 14.7% in 2010. This was still below the 1995 peak of 16.7%.
  • The rise was mainly due to an increase in the proportion of people who had used cannabis (from 9.1% to 10.3%), pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes (3.7% to 4.2%), cocaine (1.6% to 2.1%) and hallucinogens (0.6% to 1.4%).
  • Recent illicit drug use was highest in the 20–29 year age group for both males and females (30.5% and 24.3%, respectively).
    However, recent ecstasy use decreased, and there was no change in the use of meth/amphetamines, heroin, ketamine, GHB, inhalants and injecting drug use.
  • Between 2007 and 2010, ecstasy and meth/amphetamines were perceived to be less readily available, with less opportunity to use, but cocaine, hallucinogens, pain-killers/analgesics (both prescription and over-the-counter) and tranquilisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes were perceived to be more readily available.
  • Of all illicit drugs, community tolerance has increased for cannabis use, while people in Australia still consider heroin to be the drug most associated with a drug problem.

Important actors

While I don’t envisage solving the ‘war on drugs’ (illicit) in the next few paragraphs, I will share some brief views:

Justice system – Why is it that many of us turn a blind eye to cocaine abuse by a wealthy office worker and yet we shun those who live in poverty and smoke marijuana?  Equal opportunities for incarceration and condemnation for use and possession must be enforced.  I struggle to understand how hubs like Kings Cross exist when everyone knows what goes on behind many of the closed doors… A power struggle between the justice system and king pins? Perhaps.  Which may reduce through harsher deterrents for criminals but also greater support for law enforcement officers.

Education – many attendees of this address thought earlier education and more of it would reduce illicit drug consumption.  However, if my experiences and the experiences of those I have met in my time are anything to go by its not so much a deterrent.  As Peter discusses, peer pressure and that desire to play with fire and experience the unknown play a key role.  It can’t hurt of course, and certainly the recent ‘Ice Age Campaign‘ has provided some great shock tactics.

I wonder whether a different tack could be for education providers to simply:

  1. Emphasise how many great things in the world ignite the senses like travel http://www.escapenormal.com/2012/06/23/the-100-most-beautiful-places-in-the-world-in-pictures/
  2. Remind us all of how ‘free and easy’ we have it these days (as my 94 year old grandfather says) and that we should be thankful for our good health and opportunity. http://www.boredpanda.com/must-see-powerful-photos/

Policy makers – ensure that appropriate consultation occurs with anti social citizens to understand the core drivers for illicit drug consumption so that appropriate systems are in place to combat it.  Perhaps:

  • More community engagement events and campaigns that foster important values – we all know how much sport unites us as Australians and Australia Day, Christmas etc.
  • Online service delivery for anxiety and depression to target those who may be at risk for starting on an illicit drug journey at the expense of seeking professional help – www.mindspot.org.au is a fantastic example.
  • And the list goes on…

All of us –  focus on constructing a more favoured reality which includes laughter, confidence, creativity and relaxation to fuel a less anti social society.

Notwithstanding there may be a genuine need to escape the current place one finds themselves (e.g. returning from war, divorce, dealing with grief/loss etc).  In this instance perhaps we can make mental health services more accessible and less stigmatised so people don’t feel compelled to commence their ‘illicit drug journey’.

Philosophically speaking…

One attendee at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas even raised the fact that you are more likely to be hit by a car than negatively impacted by drugs…A reference would have been handy.  Assuming he was correct, perhaps the social fallout from illicit drug use is what it is and is another facet of the world around us?  Survival of the fittest?

http://www.news.com.au/national/more-australian-teenagers-are-choosing-not-to-drink-and-smoke-according-to-a-major-new-report/story-fncynjr2-1226991404242

http://dealproject.org.au

http://www.au.timeout.com/sydney/aroundtown/events/38675/block-party-at-the-barracks

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/philip-seymour-hoffman-bought-heroin-and-cocaine-from-two-dealers-in-final-drugs-score/story-fn907478-1226818084612

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/policeman-who-shot-ryan-pringle-thought-colleague-hit-by-crossbow/story-e6frg6nf-1226769686407

http://news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/nigella-lawson-testifies-in-court-at-fraud-trial-of-former-personal-assistants/story-fn907478-1226775464512

http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129544486&tab=2

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/12/28/canada-approves-use-of-ecstasy-in-study-into-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blow_(film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limitless

Festival of Dangerous Ideas

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Sydney Opera House are delivering a unique opportunity for Australians to listen to thoughts on issues that confront society.
http://www.fodi.sydneyoperahouse.com

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas challenges our assumptions, forces us to confront what society usually ignores, and will make you think, react…. and maybe even change your mind.

I was very excited to hear that Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Arlie Hochschild, was delivering a speech titled ‘We have outsourced ourselves‘ .

Remote assistants respond to calls and emails. Life coaches assist with personal decisions. Smartphone apps tell us where to eat dinner. Nameologists help choose names for babies that will be raised by live-in au pairs.

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild looks at the long-term consequences of a frictionless existence and the implications of replacing the community with a marketplace in favour of faster, lonelier lives.

Delivered in conjunction with St James Ethics Centre

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Geoffrey Robertson QC – Global Human Rights Lawyer

I had the privilege of hearing Geoffrey Robertson deliver an address on ‘Australian Values for Australia Today’ and highly recommend watching this.  Geoffrey Robertson “Australian Values for Australia Today” – August 2013

Geoffrey spoke of history being vital in understanding what has shaped current values, this includes the evils.

Geoffrey is a distinguished human rights lawyer, author and broadcaster.  He has defended Julian Assange, prosecuted General Pinochet and sat on the UN War Crimes Council amongst many other high profile cases.  He uses his great intellect and success to fight for the rights of humanity – an inspiration to us all.

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Does money buy us happiness? My first foray into why we…

About a decade ago I had to complete a major work (Personal Interest Project) for Society & Culture in High School, where we could pick any social issue to research and discuss.

I knew straight away that I wanted to understand whether money buys us happiness? At the ripe old age of 16 I knew that perhaps I wouldn’t find any research on the topic I had invented… However a trip to the NSW State Library soon revealed there were many models that were relevant to my research such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the law of diminished marginal utility and the fact that its human nature to never be satisfied.

After designing a questionnaire and asking relatives things like ‘If you won a million dollars what would you spend it on?’ and researching the topic further it was evident that money doesn’t buy us happiness.  The consumerist culture of the modern era largely drives individuals to think they will achieve self gratification the more they buy.

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