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7 Views on Progress: Each With Merit?

Which of the 7 views have merit and which do not?  Join the debate using DISQUS commenting below. 

Despite the trauma of boom and bust, there’s nothing like capitalism for generating wealth and well-being for the greatest possible number of people. North Korea was reckoned to be richer than the south when the country split, now its estimated GDP per capita is just $1,800, compared to over $20,000 in the capitalist south. The average northerner lives to 68, southerners to 80. The conclusion is clear: capitalism works.

The current growth model is not sustainable. We need to slow the economy to save the planet. De-growth is the only way to stop global warming and the exhaustion of the world’s resources. An economic growth rate of 3 – 4 % per year means a doubling of human consumption every 20 years. Some estimate we’ll need two-and-a-half Earths to keep us going by 2050.

The world wants the joys of consumerism. Millions in Asia, Africa and Latin America are aspiring to own iPads, air-conditioning and flat-screen TVs. Can patronizing tree-huggers call time on growth just as the long-suffering citizens of emerging economies are poised to enjoy benefits that Westerners have long taken for granted? In China the embrace of the market saw over half-a-billion pulled from poverty from 1981 to 2007. De-growth would mean the poor stay poor.

The Western model of capitalism has failed. Shadowy financial institutions are allowed to run amok, beyond the control of democratic governments. In their wake, families and governments are trapped in a downward spiral of debt, austerity and recession. For all the talk of emerging markets, half the world lives on less than $2 a day. Meanwhile traders shuffle $700 trillion around derivative markets that create no social benefit. A fundamental shift in thinking is needed to share out the world’s riches and end unsustainable inequalities.

“Capitalism is what people do if you leave them alone,” said Australian political scientist Kenneth Minogue. As a shark must keep moving, it’s in mankind’s nature to strive for betterment. That means making money. Take away the drive to replace the Mini with a Merc, and you’re going against human nature.

GDP growth figures measure money, not happiness. By GDP-per-head the United States outranks all EU nations, bar Luxembourg. Toss other factors into the standard-of-living mix – leisure time, longevity, security – and the US slides down the table, coming second bottom in a survey of 14 OECD nations. We should drop consumerism and find real happiness from fun, families, friends. Laid back Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Jamaica top the Happy Planet index. The US comes 114th out of 143.

Greed is morally wrong. It’s time to remember that giving is more rewarding than taking. With a focus on spiritual rather than material wellbeing we can all live better, sharing the world’s resources and reducing inequality. Humankind freed from the disease of “affluenza” would have less stress, less guilt, less fatigue. A global downshift too would allow us to leave the rat race and focus on the things that really matter.

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  • bill9393

    If we recognize that we are a part of and not apart from the natural world, and we are interconnected with all living (and non-living) things – other humans, other life forms, the water, the air, the soil, etc. – we would have more reverence for everything and understand the importance of turning away from exploitive over-comsumption and of seeking to live in greater harmony with everything on the planet. If we understood “thou art that”, it would inform our culture, lifestyle, politics, and day to day actions.

  • Marion Bilek

    When I first received READER, I did not realize it was a quarterly magazine.  I look forward to each issue now.  Received Winter , Nov Dec & Jan.  Tom Atlee’s article was to the point. His article was thought provoking, filled with common sense, and touched with a bit of spirituality. Revising our American Dream would be to limit our goals from Things and Services to Values and Giving. Most things loose their importance very quickly,and as the Lord said, ‘It is more blessed to give than receive”. – Marion Bilek