Monday, July 23, 2007

new economy: a happiness index

Here it is, my first book review for junior planner i am: Deep Economy by Bill McKibben. In a well-written, short and easy read, he spends time talking about resource-use, energy production, economic happiness, community conversations and shopping local. These are some points I'd like to highlight:
  • We are beginning to assess 'satisfaction' differently, he says. Americans have emphasized hyper-individualism for too long. Making something of yourself is more of an economic task; More is not necessarily better. We need a different view of the economy.
  • We have a surplus of individualism and a deficit of companionship, and so the second becomes more valuable." His statistic: Consumers have 10x more conversations at farmer's markets than they do at supermarkets. (i.e. where you shop affects your social life.)
  • Branding works its magic only up to the point of sale, and then actual human need returns, unfulfilled. *time for a new strategy!*
  • In a changed world, comfort will come less from ownership than from membership. We need to once again depend on those around us for something real. One-tenth the energy; ten times the conversations - that's an equation worth contemplating.
  • With the American syndrome of private, the car is the ultimate expression of individualism; a crosswalk is about community.
  • McKibben spends time talking to a rabbit farmer in China whose mission is to make a family become more positive instead of passive. A passive attitude can be changed. The key is they have to have a dream for the future, develop a mission. *where planning could have a big play*
  • Bhutan, a Himalayan mountain kingdom, has stopped calculating GNP and replaced it with a "happiness index," saying that we have to think of human well-being in broader terms beyond levels of possession.
  • And to end, Americans have grown steadily less satisfied with their lives. Statistic: The percentage of of Europeans predominantly satisfied with their lives has increased from 79 to 83%. The decline in happiness (or social capital) is largely an American phenomenon.
The book quickly references Branded Nations by James Twitchell, giving a nod to brands that create communities but then shaming them for dropping the consumer with just a product. I think though with the increasing focus on contextual-based marketing > creating an experience for consumers, customers, audience, people to be a part of > in combination with social networking and media > we should see a natural, organic, inherently built-in increase in social capital. No? I'd like to think so.

And if reading isn't your thing, there's sure to be a movie about it soon...

1 comment:

Balmule said...

Actually I saw a piece on PBS about that very thing in Bhutan about the government implementing the "Happiness Scale". They are a very poor country yet go out of their way to ask their people about what makes them happy and how can the government improve their lives. Though the people are extremely poor they feel good about themselves and their government because they feel someone at least is listening and caring. Now in an affluent society like ours, wouldn't that go a lot further toward making everyone's life better and conversely the planet's if we were asked what could our government do to make us happier? For a poor country with little resources to think up such a simple yet powerful tool to get the country united and 'on the right path'... amazing. I think your author piece was also about quantity is not necessarily quality and we are beginning to, with going green, think about quality of our planet, and then our surroundings. Europeans have always had more of a sense of 'the essense of life' while we Americans seem to just want new and then newer and newest as illustrated by us being a throw away soiety. Europeans do not throw away like we do, they do not have nearly the choices we have, and they have more pride in their possessions and environment. I'd be interested in a comparison of their ad campaigns as compared to ours. I think your author has a lot of good ideas but the American society and what we as people want and what the American economy/government dominated by capitalism's driving force wants is a dicotomy. Perhaps reduce the choices and just make the ones we do have better, then we'll feel better about whichever one we choose. Bandonmama