Review - The Economics of Happiness

On Tuesday night I attended a film screening at Rancho Notorious (its the space upstairs at Thousand Pound Bend, for those of you playing at home).The film was The Economics of Happiness - one I've been trying to see for a little while now. It is a really interesting discussion of globalisation and the issues it creates. It investigates an apparent contradiction -  the constant pursuit of economic growth in the developed world resulting in increasing levels of unhappiness and distress in the west, alongside an increasingly dire social situation in the developing world.

The film is steered by Helena Norberg-Hodge - a researcher who has dedicated her life to investigating the impact of economic development on agriculture and cultural evolution. She discusses these impacts in the context of the Ladakhi people from Tibet, an isolated community that until the 1970s was thriving on local economic and social engagement, living a relatively simple way of life with a surprisingly high standard of living - a life that she describes as "joyous and rich".

I've recently submitted a thesis on the role of corporations in the environmental movement, especially in our current neoliberal free-market economic landscape. Not surprisingly, many of the themes I explored in my essay were touched on in the film, though framed in a slightly different way.

Historically, economic growth has always been the aim of the game. In our modern era, with the developed world having already achieved high levels of employment, infrastructure and affluence, the economic growth sought by consumer culture becomes problematic. When this infiltrates the community of the Ladakhis, it creates unemployment, depression, and an internal perception of poverty, all in just 30 short years.

As was discussed with friends this week, one critical issue is that "ours isn't a free market". The level to which subsidies, commercial lobbying and inequality in free-trade agreements preference transnational corporations means that our global economy could not function without state support. I'm pretty sure this isn't what was intended. This balance ensures social, ecological and personal wellbeing (which is often completely at odds from the commercial agenda) will become further and further from our grasp as long as growth is pursued.

The film proposes localisation - the antithesis to globalisation - as a way to counteract our projected pathway, and to me, the rationale seems sound. An example given was the local bookshop: it returns (on average) $45 to the local economy, as opposed to a chain store which returns approximately $13. If these figures are translated to food, services, clothing, recreation, etc. the impacts are huge!

Not only that, the environmental impacts of buying locally are significant. This is particularly evident with fashion, where a garment produced by an international retailer could have already been to 4 or 5 different countries during the production process before it even lands in store, with much of its true environmental impact still to come.

True localisation isn't just visiting the farmers market once in a while. The film shows how much of an impact local economies can have. Returning to community based activities has big social benefits, not to mention the fact that it can help to correct economic and environmental imbalances.

I would love to discuss this in much more detail and hear your thoughts on the film, globalisation and economic growth, or why you like shopping local.