If you had asked me nearly two years ago, where I saw my blog writing heading, economy was probably the least likely answer I could have given. Initially I was focused on unsustainable practices. However, the further I went down this rabbit hole, the more it seemed that much of this was merely the effect, with the cause being a strange mixture of our economic models and lingering cultural expectations that do us more harm than good.
The best way I can explain how I now see it is that we’re like squirrels who have perfected the art of nut collection. So good are we that we’ve efficiently brought an end to new recruitment of trees. We celebrate those who have collected the most, while this efficiency, captured by a lucky few, has made it more difficult for others to get enough (statistics like 50% of the worlds population own around 1% of the global GDP while the top 1% own 50% and that while we produce enough food, 1 billion go hungry is all the evidence I require). It’s an illusion of prosperity that blinds us even beyond the death of the last nut baring tree, because we associate wealth with the holdings and not the production processes.
This is, in essences, the fundamental point behind both Innovation is Key and The Human Island; especially the latter. I now feel certain that we simply cannot change many of our most impractical and ultimately detrimental behaviours without first redefining what wealth actually means.
The reason I bring this up (there have been numerous posts I’ve created and trashed on the subject) is that I’ve recently been made aware of the report; A social cost-benefit analysis: Early intervention programs to assist children with hearing loss develop spoken language, which again drives home the same point, from yet another angle. In short, a dollar invested in early development for the hearing impaired will produce nearly 2 dollars return. But that’s for those who merely see people as dollar signs. More humanely minded readers will find the following excerpt more interesting;
The quantified benefits are as bellow;
- Productivity gains / higher incomes
- Reduction in disability / better quality of life
- School costs avoided
- Likelihood of being in paid work
- Injuries avoided
So not only are they more productive, creating more wealth within their community, but they also enjoy a better standard of living; one that is more independent and fulfilling. How could anyone argue against that?
Whilst I’ve spent a fair amount of time arguing for investment in the protection and enrichment of natural resources as well as further research and development into reducing our species impact on surrounding environments, the above report shows that investment in care and development of a society is just as rewarding and key to genuine prosperity.
I’d argue that the same could be said for assistance in health and education of developing countries as well as the developed countries (the ‘have-nots’ in many of the richer countries are truly that). If what I’ve heard about Wilkinson and Pickett’s; The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, is correct (unfortunately it’s still on my “to read” list), such communities would be safer and happier. It’s true to say that where people are well educated, have greater certainty of a long happy life and employment, you’ve effectively removed many of the instigating motives for many crimes (albeit not all) as well as increased the wealth of the community and provided the ground work for reducing population growth to something more sensible.
It takes only one nut to either provide a meal for one squirrel or to produce a tree which will feed countless squirrels to follow. Unfortunately, we see the squirrel currently hoarding a needlessly massive supply and think, “well done you,” and not the countless generations to follow who could prosper from the tree planted. In the same way, massive tax breaks for the ultra rich or subsidies for booming industries in fact reduces social wealth creation.
We seem to be coming at the idea of wealth from entirely the wrong angle.