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/

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Measuring solidarity: Stand up or sit back?

Following from an earlier post where I saw Geoffrey Robertson QC present, one comment he made has stuck with me ‘the greatest value of any civilised society, is the extent to which it cares for its most vulnerable members’.

When you see a homeless person, do you stop to buy them a coffee or email a charity to ensure their social workers and vans know about it? Because lets face it we aren’t all entirely convinced where those coins are going to be spent… When I lived in London I recall gypsies begging with a baby outside work when it was snowing.  I rang the police (standard!) who said they couldn’t do anything.  I reminded them that in Australia a baby would be protected by our authorities from the icy winter streets.  As Geoffrey Robertson says ‘Australians have a distinctive moral outlook and are possibly the best example in the world of the reformation of the human spirit’.

We have all witnessed the terrifying bushfires raging throughout New South Wales at the moment – this news broadcast is a stark reminder of the raging inferno many communities are engulfed in with the emergency services doing their best to contain the flames.

The Rural Fire Service is instrumental in leading the disaster response on the front line and via social media.  With a recent post declaring people ‘Prepare for the emotional, mental and physical impact of defending your property, if in doubt, leave’.  The threat of large loss of property and life is very real and its up to the rest of us as a community to stand up and act to support our most vulnerable citizens.

Imagine if your family, friends, pets, home or neighbours were at risk? But can we imagine that enough to act? Or are we planning our next manicure, restaurant reservation and pub crawl.  Have you considered?

  • Donating cash for those managing the disaster response
  • Donating clothes (apparently household items are too impractical for the RFS to accept – fair enough!)
  • Donating food for victims and for the emergency services (cooking would be a bonus I’m sure)
  • Providing accommodation for people who’s homes have been burned to a cinder
  • Supporting bushfire victims and our firies through this challenging time
  • Volunteering e.g. for the RFS front line, admin, washing uniforms, anything! If not to enable immediate help in the future the more manpower the better.  So  pleased to report our fellow firies in NZ have confirmed they can assist.
  • Driving awareness of important messages from RFS and beyond – such as the Facebook message for anyone in the bushfire stricken area  to empty their green garbage bins, fill with water and leave with a sign and also those with a pool.  It is evident social media has proven a positive influence in the work of disaster response teams with its ubiquitous nature.
  • Fundraising for anyone you know personally that has been affected, or for the overall disaster response.
  • Preparing your own house so its fire ready
  • Educating your loved ones about what to do in case of a bushfire
  • Lobbying Government for relief measures and stronger policies as well as increased resourcing for disaster relief

And the list goes on…

The point is we as a community have a moral obligation to support our fellow countrymen.  There are so many things you can do to act as I have listed, even as creative as driving nearby with chilled bottles of water for the emergency services!

To quote again from my Dalai Lama post, we must always treat the entire population as one.  If there are members of society that are more vulnerable than others its up to us to support them.  The favour will always be returned and at some point in our lives we will too be vulnerable members of society.  If the emergency services or the military thought it was all too hard to put their lives at risk to help others than where would we be?  We can all play a role.

I just registered as a volunteer for the RFS – I doubt I will be any use front line but I am prepared to help with whatever else!

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http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/coping-in-a-fire-disaster-our-tips-on-what-to-do-and-where-to-turn/story-fni0cx12-1226743099002

http://news.com.au/national/pilot-dies-after-firefighting-aircraft-crashes-near-ulladulla-in-new-south-wales/story-fncynjr2-1226745835136

http://news.com.au/national/breaking-news/bushfires-still-a-risk-in-some-nsw-areas/story-e6frfku9-1226745639124

http://mashable.com/2013/10/21/random-acts-of-kindness/

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Dalai Lama in Sydney

Thrilled to see the Dalai Lama and to hear his insight into the inner workings of humankind and interdependence and how we all have the ability to use common values such as compassion, love and kindness.

His focus is not solely on Buddhism but ‘secular ethics’.  He is a really cool chilled guy who laughs a lot and I think we can learn a lot about how to live in harmony with one another from him.

As they say in Hawaii ‘Your blood is my blood, your bone my bone.  Your happiness is my happiness, your pain is my pain’.  If everyone in the world tried to make the biggest contribution by being kind and helpful to everyone they meet, the world would be a better place.

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