Image credit: Quinn Dombrowski, used under Creative Commons license.
From the economics of happiness to David Korten's focus on real wealth, it's no secret that many greens believe we must move beyond Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a primary indicator of our well-being. The fact is that our money economy, and the transactions it represents, encompass just a tiny fraction of the human experience. What would it mean for ourselves, and the planet, if we started viewing everything as an economic act?
And I do mean everything. The Limitations of GDP
It's been said many times before that if we all paid one neighbor for sex, and the other neighbor for childcare, GDP would go through the roof. I've always thought of this as an amusing cautionary tale about the danger pf pursuing economic growth at the cost of all else. But besides highlighting the deficits of GDP, the analogy also clearly demonstrates the potential of what might be called the real economy.
If you look up the definition of "economy", it is most likely listed as something like this:
Noun: the wealth and resources of a country or region, esp. in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.
Note that no mention is made of money, or stock markets, or banks. And yet, whether we realize it or not, we are bombarded with the notion that our economy is simply the exchange of dollars, pounds, yuan or shillings in exchange for X amount of stuff and/or somebody's time or expertise.
Social Capital and Real-World Wealth
As Juliet Schor demonstrated in her video on the Plenitude Economy, human beings have countless non-monetary ways of facilitating exchange and building social capital. Every time we talk with our neighbors over the fence, we are fulfilling the role of the "communication industry". Every time we swap garden produce with a friend, we are farmers. And yes, every time we make love with our partners, or even pleasure ourselves, we are "replacing" the need for any number of professional services—from marriage counseling to prostitution to personal training to the entertainment industry. And, I hope, we're having a damn good time doing it.
The Persistent Narrative of Scarcity
In many ways, these observations are so obvious that they are hardly worth noting. We all do things for each other, and ourselves, all the time without giving a second thought to money. And yet when we turn on the radio and hear, yet again, that markets are down because of yet more fears that Greece will default on its debts, we can easily get sucked in to the scarcity mentality that tells us it is hopeless.
Mother Nature Imposes Enough Limits. Let's Not Invent More.
In times gone by, scarcity was based on real-world shocks like drought, disease or crop failure. People suffered because they were literally, physically less able to meet their own needs. While recent natural disasters have shown that our economy is still deeply connected to the natural world, and a stable climate is in our own interests, we have also seen disasters that exist almost entirely on a spreadsheet somewhere—only these disasters have real world consequences as people are put out of work, or turned out of their homes.
As the radio and TV networks tell us the same old hopeless tale of millions out of work, a faltering economy and poor prospects for recovery, let's try to keep our perspective on the real world around us. Do we have neighbors we can help out? Do we know people who can help us? Do we have healthy garden soil and a shovel that could be put to work? Do we have skills, resources and knowledge that we could deploy to better our own situation or the situation of those around us? Do we have loved ones we can hold tight, spend time with and enjoy? Do we know how to love, respect and care for ourselves too?
The chances are that the answer to some of these questions is yes. So what are we waiting for? This recession has been depressing beyond belief. But what would be most depressing would be if we fail to learn its lessons. From developing a personal green stimulus plan to living with less to sharing more, we see the tantalizing signs of a new paradigm emerging—one that sees money as a tool, not an end in itself.
I, for one, am excited.
More on Economics, Sustainability and Finances
Plenitude Economics: Work Less, Play More, and Stop Screwing the Planet (Video)
Want to help the Economy? Do Not Go Shopping (Too Much)
Material Possessions are Not Evil: Learn to Love Your Stuff
Do You Have a Personal Green Stimulus Plan?
Living Without Cash for a Year: Hypocrisy or Heroism?
What Does a No Growth Economy Actually Look Like?
Living Simply as an Alternative American Dream