Homo economicus

Standard

Blog Response 5: Homo Economicus

Standard of living is simply a measurement of quality of life. In order to maintain a certain level of standard of living, while simultaneously reducing consumption, one only has to change the metrics by which he measures quality of life. If GDP (or consumption) is currently used as the metric to define quality of life, we must turn towards a different metric, say instances of depression and anxiety, to avoid the need to grow our economy in order to meet a set standard of living.

Essentially, I am proposing the need for a value system where goods and well-being are mostly separate. However, in reality, goods and well-being will never be completely separate; after all, food items are still goods and everyone needs a certain level of nutrition to survive. Rather, a system that defines quality of life by happiness removes the need for consumptive growth and disconnects well-being from exploitation. This system would allow consumption to reach a constant level representing basic needs and if resources permit, basic wants. A basic need would include things like food, clothes, water, and shelter. A basic want might include things like a community pool, a cellphone, or a yearly trip into the mountains if you live by the beach.

However as I have mentioned, consumption can never be totally eliminated, so in order to maximize standard of living worldwide (and permit basic wants), population needs to be minimized. Since the world’s resources are finite, we must find the exact combination of population size and consumption level that permits the earth to continually renew itself, while becoming less reliant on goods that utilize non-renewable components. I believe that these standards can be set globally, with some variation to account for different cultural practices and beliefs.

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One response »

  1. I completely agree that we need to change how we measure quality of life by looking more towards mental and physical wellbeing than by things consumed. However, our capitalist system has seemingly brainwashed society to believe that money and things can buy us happiness, when it usually cannot, and as you said, separating goods from wellbeing will probably never be accomplished because of it.
    Perhaps if a common land ethic was accepted around the world, we could start separating consumption from wellbeing by focusing on increasing the quality of what we produce, not increasing the quantity. Herman Daly explained in “Beyond Growth” that there is a difference between growth and development- growth being influenced by our goal to raise GNP, and development having the goal of ignoring the idea of GNP and simply making better decisions in policy and natural resource use. By switching to a steady state economic system, we would be improving what we already have and what is available to us (respecting that resources are finite), instead of focusing on producing to no end. So, perhaps to change our ideas of standard of living, we have to take the extreme route of changing our economic system and influence first.

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