The Economics of Happiness

The larger cultural campaign to fight the huge inefficiencies of global trade and foster re-localization of the economy has gotten a nice boost from a new film, The Economics of Happiness, produced by the International Society for Ecology and Culture. The film, available as a DVD, describes how “going local” is a powerful way to make our economic lives and culture more stable, eco-friendly and socially benign.

Helena Norberg-Hodge, director of the ISEC, points out the madness that tuna caught off the East Coast of the U.S. is flown to Japan to be packed, and then is shipped back to the U.S. for sale. By the lights of 18th Century economic theorists, this is considered “efficient” and “rational.” Of course, the economics of global trade only work because the vast externalized costs and hidden subsidies are ignored. Companies enjoy huge subsidies to use more energy and technologies to ship more things around the world. The costs of massive unemployment, rural migrations to cities in poor countries, and ecological destruction are “off the books.”

While lifestyles of consumption are aggressively marketed and widely accepted, people’s lives have more stressful as a result. Surveys about people’s levels of personal happiness and satisfaction peaked in the 1950s, notes eco-advocate Bill McKibben in the film. That’s about when the marketization of more aspects of human life really kicked into high gear, eclipsing the non-market havens of existence that humanity had enjoyed for millennia.

The film tries to show how it is feasible to relocalize the economy, and proposes new tactics – like the “Genuine Progress Index” – to help us develop more rational economic approaches. The film features all-star cast of thinkers and activists -- Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten, Michael Shuman, Juliet Schor, Richard Heinberg, Rob Hopkins, Andrew Simms, Zac Goldsmith, Samdhong Rinpoche. The trailer for the 67-minute film can be seen here; copies are $25 for individuals and $150 for institutions.