Vision: 8 Reasons Global Capitalism Makes Our Lives Worse -- And How We Can Create a New Kind of Economy
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To many of us, a society where no one goes hungry, where there is no unemployment, where people are happy and they have spacious homes and lots of leisure time seems like fantasy. But it's not a fantasy for Helena Norberg-Hodge -- she saw it firsthand in the tiny Himalayan region of Ladakh, a remote mountain community that borders Tibet.
During the course of 35 years there, she also saw what happened when Ladakh was suddenly thrown open to the outside world in the 1970s and subsidized roads brought subsidized goods to the region. The local economy was undermined, the cultural fabric was torn apart. Unemployment, pollution and divisiveness emerged for the first time.
"This was Ladakh's introduction to globalization," says Norberg-Hodge. The "story of Ladakh can shed light on the root causes of the crises now facing the planet."
The account of Ladakh's transformation opens the new film, The Economics of Happiness, created by Steven Gorelick, John Page and Norberg-Hodge, the founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture. As Bill McKibben says early on in the film, according to a poll conducted every year since the end of World World II, happiness in the U.S. peaked in 1956. "It's been slowly downhill ever since," he says. "But in that time we've gotten immeasurably richer, we have three times as much stuff. Somehow it hasn't worked because that same affluence tends to undermine community."
Our consumer culture, driven by the engine of globalization, has resulted in an economic and environmental crisis -- and, the film's creators say, a crisis of the human spirit.
Through interviews with experts and activists like McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Zac Goldsmith, Richard Heinberg, David Korten, Keibo Oiwa, Samdhong Rinpoche, Balaji Shankar and Andrew Simms, among others, the film crosses six continents examining the pitfalls of globalization and how people are envisioning a more sustainable economy. It begins by exploring eight inconvenient truths about globalization.
1. Globalization makes us unhappy. More stuff and more wealth has meant less contact with community, rising levels of depression, jobs with longer hours, more time spent working at home and longer commutes. "Lonely people have never been happy people and globalization is creating a very lonely planet," says author and activist Vandana Shiva.
2. Globalization breeds insecurity. Corporations are raising our children and driving what they eat, buy, wear and what they care about. Identity that was once shaped by one's culture and language, molded by community leaders and family, is now filled by marketers. Across the world, sales of blue contact lenses are on the rise, along with products to lighten skin and hair as people try to fulfill a Western ideal and an emulation of American life.
3. Globalization wastes natural resources. Consumerism is threatening the planet, natural resources are stretched to the breaking point and yet we have an economic system that encourages us to consume more and more, says Norberg-Hodge. Consumer culture is increasingly urban and when rural people move to the city the food they used to grow themselves is now grown on industrial-sized chemical-intensive farms. Food must be trucked to cities, waste must be trucked out. Large dams are needed to provide water and huge centralized power plants must be fueled by coal and uranium mines.
4. Globalization accelerates climate change. Globalization's "success" is often attributed to efficiencies of scale, but mostly it is fueled by deregulation and hidden subsidies that make food from around the globe cost less than food from down the street. With efficiencies of scale, it's really the opposite, says British MP Zac Goldsmith, "Tuna caught off the east coast of America is flown to Japan, processed and flown back to America to be sold to consumers; English apples are flown to South Africa to be waxed, flown back to England to be sold."