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22 September, 2016

Go local to counter the negative effects of globalization, say speakers at a forum on the Economics of Happiness

Economics of Happiness speakers

by Catherine McMaster

The world needs an ‘economics of happiness’ to guarantee human and ecological sustainability at the local and global levels. This was the message from speakers at a forum on The Economics of Happiness held in London on 14 September. Economic activity needed to move from the disruptions caused by globalization towards ‘localization’, supporting local communities, they said. Localisation meant fostering and investing in local communities as a key to the world’s ecological, financial and social sustainability.

The day-long event was hosted jointly by Local Futures, Global Hub for the Common Good and Initiatives of Change (IofC), and was held in IofC’s London centre.

Helena Norberg-HodgeHelena Norberg-Hodge, the founder of Local Futures, showed an alternative paradigm to that of globalization in her film, The Economic of Happiness. The renowned, award-winning author and campaigner has lived and worked in Ladakh in the Himalayas each year for the last 40 years. Seeing the disruptive impact of global businesses on local economies had shaped her world view. She called for human-scale economics and the steps needed to achieve this at the community, national and international levels. The need, she said, was for ‘big picture activism’ to build a people’s movement.

Mike SmithChairing the forum, Michael Smith, Head of Business Programmes at Initiatives of Change, said that ‘The world needs to eliminate the roadblocks to economic justice at a time of appalling disparities and global warming.’ An economics of happiness is sometimes achieved when people make a courageous stance in the teeth of fierce opposition, driven by a deep sense of conscience, he said. It required self-discipline, ‘in the interest of the common good of humankind, rather than the pursuit of self-interest. An economics that only promotes the accumulation of individual wealth is ultimately selfish and self-defeating. It is destructive. But an economics that promotes the welfare of others, and promotes mutual interest towards the common good, also contributes towards human happiness.’

Norberg-Hodge referenced the Five Star Movement in Italy as an example of a successful campaign that has had a national impact. Formed in 2009 by Beppe Gillo, the party campaigns on the five stars of public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to Internet access, and environmentalism. It had utilised social media to gain notoriety and popularity. In the six years following its formation they had taken half of the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s vote. This was one example of how local communities can have a significant national impact. Through the use of social media, small and local communities can begin to gain global and domestic impact, Norberg-Hodge said.

Lawrence Bloom‘We are at a crisis. Do we transcend into consciousness, or become a footnote in history?’ said Lawrence Bloom, chairman of the Be Earth Foundation, the UN agency that promotes the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The former Executive Committee member of InterContinental Hotels, the world’s largest hotel chain, was instrumental in the early 1990s in fighting for an environmental approach in the global hotel industry. He talked passionately about protecting the natural environment through a carbon tax, allowing for the ‘vocalisation of big industry on the real cost they are producing’. For every £1 of petrol spent by consumers, it costs the environment £2. Should these industries pay for this damage to the environment? 

‘We are involved in a secondary renaissance,’ Bloom said. ‘We have lost connectedness with the cosmos, way of life and with each other.’ We can get a glimpse of the future by what is a ‘breakthrough’ and what is ‘breaking down’. Inevitably, we are at a stage where we can make a choice in how we want to envision our future, and whether we want our ‘great, great grandchildren to bless or curse us’. 

The Economics of Happiness audienceStephen Hinton of the Transition Movement in Sweden works on sustainable development. ‘You can start somewhere,’ he said. ‘You just need to start with the five P’s: people, place, product, project and payment. These five integral ingredients can create a local economy anywhere in the world.’ Hinton spoke with gusto about localisation and how to inspire this ‘transition movement’. Do we ‘fight, fly or freeze in the face of danger?’ he asked.

Diego Isabel La MonedaDiego Isabel La Moneda, social entrepreneur and founder of the Global Hub for the Common Good, specialises in new economics, social and political innovation, sustainable development and business management. ‘We are living in a period of accountability’, he said, where the hidden truths about the nature of danger are not explained. In the next three years these hidden truths will begin to emerge, he believed. Though we are ‘contaminated by capitalism’, through collaboration a ‘better world is possible’. Collaboration begins by creating alternative mantras and narratives, and fostering quality and qualitative relationships.

Invited by the other panel members to act as a ‘devil’s advocate’, Michael Smith asked the audience, through a show of hands, how many of them had used Facebook, Google, a PC with Microsoft or an Apple product. Most of the audience had. ‘You are the beneficiaries of some of the world’s largest corporations. You are a participant in globalization, whether you like it or not,’ Smith commented. ‘My point is not that globalization is bad for us but that the quality and motivations of the leaders of some of the world’s biggest corporations is what really matters.’ He pointed to such corporations as Tata’s in India which have had a reputation for integrity and community involvement.

A businessman in the audience urged the audience not to fight or demonise global corporations, but to discuss and work with them to ensure ecological and human sustainability, in shared responsibility. It was a valid point, reiterated throughout the day.

Photos by Yee Liu Williams

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