Thursday, 28 October 2010

Capitalism doesn't make people happy

A recent poll looking at what makes people happy came up with some interesting findings.Top of the list in the happiness stakes with a 97 per cent rating was spending time with friends and family. Next came an interesting job with 92 per cent, then being in a relationship, 85 per cent, and hobbies and sport, 80 per cent. Seventh in the ten criteria with 64 per cent was having a high income. This last finding was particularly relevant in the consumer driven world in which we live which often via the media and advertising world emphasises material wealth above all else. The poll accompanied the publication of a report from three charities CAFOD, Tearfund and Theos, titled Wholly Living: a new perspective on international development that focuses on the idea of human flourishing.This critiques the present neo liberal economic model which advocates the pursuit of growth at any cost.The failure of this model, according to the report, sees millions in the developing world suffer due to poverty, sickness and powerlessness, while in the developed world similar dissatisfaction comes from job insecurity, overwork, consumerism, anti-social behaviour and family dislocation. "In the UK as economic growth has risen, well being has flat-lined, social capital has declined and inequality has increased," said Chris Bain, the director of CAFOD.The amazing thing is that none of this is particularly new. Back in 1968 during his 82 day bid to win the Democratic Presidential nomination, Robert Kennedy questioned the wisdom of evaluating everything in terms of the value of Gross Domestic Product. Socially the 1960s and 70s were far more progressive in many ways.During the 1970s there was the talk of the 25 hour week and people retiring when they reached 50. It was felt automation of processes would result in far more free time for people to spend on leisure or educational pursuits. This was remember before anyone had even thought of the internet. It was an exciting prospect but clearly a frightening one for those with their hands on the levers of power. Then came the rise of the neo-liberals to positions of power around the world, most notably with the election of Ronald Reagan as president in the US and Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in Britain. From that point any dream of early retirement or more leisure time receded. Instead, the power of organised labour was weakened, restrictive employment laws implemented and the Murdoch led media became a propaganda tool of government. In short, people were forced to work longer hours for less pay, resulting in greater profits for the few and a growing inequality in society.Little changed over the years of a Labour Government that signed up totally to the neo-liberal creed. This was particularly evidenced in Europe where the business lobby pushed the British Government to obstruct wherever possible any socially progressive legislation. This saw attempts to restrict the length of the working week, the blocking of full employment rights for agency workers and most recently opposition to the extension of materinity leave entitlements.This backwards attitude has seen right wing media commentators scoff at the French because they come out and protest when their government seeks to make everyone else pay for bankers largesse. They also object to seeing the pensionable age rise over 62.Similar actions by government in Britain have not thus far brought forward anything like the same oppositional protest. The report also focuses on the need for "a new democratic global green economy with human and environmental sustainability at its heart." The environment has to be factored into any future economic model and human flourishing. To date successive governments have treated sustainable development as a luxurious add on, easily disposed with at time of economic difficulty. This timely report should form part of the debate as to how the world is ordered in the future. It is high time that there was a more even distribution of the world's wealth. The poll proves that not everyone is obsessed with material wealth, many want community. The report suggests a Prime Minsterial commission to take these ideas forward, it would be a good way to start a process that could help us all rediscover some of our own humanity

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