Paradigm Shift

ParadigmShift.jpgThis last week David Cameron announced that we would start tracking a happiness index. I watched the Politics show and the politicians, including those on his party, all made a joke about it. This was a very poor reflection on them and their lack of knowledge or free thinking.

A happiness index is a step in the right direction and perhaps a move away from the infinite growth paradigm which is what we need. These politicians, who poo poo’d this idea are very ill informed. The idea of measuring happiness has been around a while. It was introduced in Bhutan back in 1972 and has been adopted by other countries since. Even places like Princeton are publishing books on the matter.

Just because something is difficult to measure doesn’t mean your shouldn’t. We measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as if it is somehow accurate, I don’t believe this is any better than a measure of  happiness in it’s accuracy (I will come to this later). If these politicians were a little better informed they’d have read about “affluenza” and studies done that measure nations feeling of well being that clearly demonstrate the pursuit of wealth does not make people happy.

We all know this. So why do we let out politicians drive our countries policies with this over-riding aim of growth. It’s because we live within a given paradigm, we’re brought up with it’s underlying features such that, for most, they are unquestionable. We need lost of people to start questioning all those things you just take for granted.

Paradigm • a worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject :

What we need is a fundamental change in the paradigm we use for the way our world works. The problem is that any solutions that are offered are always framed within the current paradigm. It’s the current paradigm that is wrong.

What is this paradigm? It’s the belief that we need growth. As in my previous post we see why because of the way our money works ongoing growth is absolutely required. Without it the financial system falls apart (as can be seen happening right now in the EURO. Don’t believe we’re any different – the UK, US, China everyone is heading the same way). Thus a paradigm shift requires a change in the way money works.

Why can’t growth continue ? Because the world is FINITE. We will run out of resources if we continue to consume more (ie have growth), no improvement in efficiency can get over a limited resource, ultimately the only sustainable approach is to use renewable resources at below the rate they renew and any use of non renewable will ultimately mean they run out. Not perhaps in our lifetimes but think of your descendants. The problem with the paradigm of growth is that it results in the sensible approach to finite resources is to use them up as quick as possible. You see it all the time, with oil, gas etc… it’s get it up out of the ground as quick as possible. Sit and think. Thats utterly ridiculous. You wouldn’t look at your savings account and say the most sustainable approach to that is to spend it as quick as possible.

Continual growth is just not natural. Whether it’s an animal growing, a glacier expanding or an animal population growing in a region. There is initial growth then stability. We need to find stability. This requires us all to learn to be happy with what we’ve got rather believe happiness is gained by pursuing what we don’t yet have.

Governments aim for growth. By this they mean ever increasing GDP. We triathletes know that using an incorrect measure can result in unfortunate consequences. For instance if you’re trying to improve your performance and use hours trained as your metric. IE growth in hours is your target as a proxy for improved performance. This will probably lead to excessive fatigue. What you need to track and try and improve is performance and need a measure for that.

So GDP – is this a good thing to be driving policy ? Even if we ignore that ongoing growth (infinite growth) is just not possible it has other flaws

  1. It says nothing about distribution of the growth. So you can have growth even if it’s all in the hands of a few.
  2. It makes no distinction on what money is spent for. So £100k spent knocking a building down contributes the same as £100k building one.
  3. It ignores all non monetary transactions. So self sufficiency is ignore and thus discouraged by the system. You grow your own veg, cook at home rather than eat out, make your own furniture your not helping the country grow. Any barter transactions are ignored.

I could go on. It’s a hugely flawed measure of “growth” but is absolutely required by our current paradigm. Since the monetary system requires growth in cash transactions to maintain itself. It doesn’t care whether you borrow money to knock something down or build something as long as you can pay back with interest. Just look round London and how often a building is knocked down to build another – anyone that believes this is sustainable has a screw loose. Yes it’s currently profitable but thats our problem.

Profit motive, of course, its with our paradigm. It’s required for growth and to pay interest. So many people think it’s for the good – gives better cheaper products. I would challenge both these ?

  1. Better ? For some that can afford it but for the majority they get cheap low quality products.
  2. Cheap ? Cheap because companies do not include all costs. For one they never required to price in the damage they do to the environment.

The profit motive lead to division of labour which general means boring less satisfying work. This leads to automation (only achievable due to our current era of very cheap energy – ie cheaper than human labour) meaning less jobs. Finally this cheap energy allows globalisation which means more loss of jobs and less variety.

The profit motive has, massively, benefited a small minority but not the majority.

This idea that endless growth is unsustainable is nothing new. Back in 1972 scientists modelled it and published Limits To Growth. We’re not talking some hippies, or conspiracy theorists we’re talking straight forward scientists creating models to try and better understand the world. They published a 30 year update which is an excellent read.

We need a change in view. Not for profit. Not growth. Not earn interest. What is the solution? I have ideas but I don’t know. I used to think that to say something is wrong you should have an alternative. I don’t believe that now.

It is possible to see that something is wrong without have a solution. You can know we need something different without knowing the precise thing we need. This I believe is the great thing the Occupy movement has done. It’s not offered a solution it has just said there is something wrong. They recognise that other minds may be more able to come up with the solutions and how to transition from the current paradigm to the new. For now we need to raise the debate, get people thinking and hopefully solutions will arise. Perhaps some of these Investment Bank quants will decide they’ve got enough money, they’ll get over their greed and apply their brain power to finding a solution.

Measuring the nations happiness even if not completely accurate may be the start to directing government policy towards more appropriate goals than just growth. It’s a tiny step but it could be a start.

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