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Economies for Wellbeing and Planetary Flourishing

On the second day of the International Claremont Eco Forum we had a session of Economies for Wellbeing and Planetary Flourishing. (www.claremontecoforum.org) Gunna Jung moderated the session. Gunna is a professor of Economics at Hanshin University, Seoul, Korea. He is a chair of a board of directors at Lab2050. He served as a director at Seoul Institute and Seoul50+ foundation, and The Hope Institute. He works for Social Economy, social innovation, and bridging local communities with academics. Lately, he mainly works in ecological transition of economy, Circular Economy, and Beyond GDP and Happiness Index.

We had four brilliant panelists for the session. Julia Kim is a researcher and global health and sustainable development specialist who has worked extensively in Africa, and Asia with NGOs, academia and UN agencies (UNDP and UNICEF). She is currently a Senior Program Advisor at the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Centre in Bhutan which, in collaboration with international partners aims to bring the principles and practices of Bhutan’s unique development philosophy into action in the spheres of business, education, government, and civil society.

Mark Anielski is an economic strategist specializing in measuring the well-being and happiness of nations, communities and businesses. Mark holds three degrees from the University of Alberta: Economics (1981), Forest Science (1984), and Masters of Science in Forest Economics (1991). For ten years (2003-2012) he was professor of corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship at the University of Alberta’s School of Business. He has lectured internationally on the economics of happiness and well-being in Canada, the US, China, Tahiti, The Netherlands and Austria.

Natalie Foster is the co-chair and co-founder of the Economic Security Project, a network to support exploration and experimentation of a guaranteed income, and a senior fellow at The Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative. In 2013, Natalie was founding CEO of Peers.org to support people who work in the gig economy. Prior, she was the CEO and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, a platform for people–driven economic change, with Van Jones. Natalie also served as digital director for President Obama’s Organizing for America (OFA) and the Democratic National Committee. Natalie built the first digital department at the Sierra Club and served as the deputy organizing director for MoveOn.org. She’s been awarded various fellowships and is a board member of the California Budget and Policy Center, the Change.org global foundation, and Liberation in a Generation, a project to close the racial wealth gap.

Wen Tiejun is Executive Dean of the Institute of Advanced Studies of Sustainability of Renmin University of China, Beijing; the Institute of Rural Reconstruction of China, Southwest University, Chongqing; and the Institute of Rural Reconstruction of the Straits, Fujiang Agriculture and Forestry University, Fuzhou. He is an expert on sustainability, agrarian issues, policy studies, macro-economics, south-south cooperation, and inclusive growth.

The whole session was oriented to assessing the current problems in our economic system and figuring out what kind of action that we can take urgently to solve them. Julia pointed out that GDP (Gross domestic product) which has been widely used by many countries as a marker of economic growth and national wealth caused a lot of problems. The mind-set that is behind the GDP scale has exploited the natural resources from nature and made severe competitions in human life which lost its dignity. She made an example. Bhutan has used an alternative index to measure not only their economic success but also the holistic quality of life of its people instead of GDP, which is called GNH, Gross National Happiness. It is an index which is designed to measure the collective happiness and well-being of the people. GNH was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972. Julia introduced the detailed values of GNH which were expressed in the nine domains of happiness and four pillars. The four pillars are ‘sustainable and equitable socio-economic development’, ‘environmental conservation’, ‘preservation and promotion of culture’, ‘good governance’. The nine domains of GNH are psychological well-being, health, time use, education, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards. She made an example, if there is a person whose life is consumed with working, spending relatively short time with friends and family, then the person’s GNH is not large, compared to a person who spends more time with friends and family but has lower quality work conditions. She emphasized that the leadership of a nation can make these changes by seeing things in different ways, setting a national goal with different standards, and seizing a visionary reality. She mentioned that since Bhutan set the nation’s priority in different perspectives compared to other countries that are using GDP and policies which were made in the same mindset, Bhutan successfully defended the country against the threats of COVID19. Bhutan put their priority to build a free health care and education system for all people. Additionary, Bhutan values a balance between material abundance and spiritual welfare. The spiritual leaders in the community played an important role in fighting against COVID19. Seh claimed that open mindedness to the younger generation would bring new changes which are emerging from creativity.  

Mark wrote a book, ‘The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth’ in 2007. He explained the concepts in the study of the economics of happiness. Economics of happiness the study of happiness and quality of life, including positive and negative effects, well-being, life satisfaction and related concepts – typically tying economics more closely than usual with other social sciences, like sociology and psychology, as well as physical health. It typically treats subjective happiness-related measures, as well as more objective quality of life indices, rather than wealth, income or profit, as something to be maximized.(Wikipedia, ‘Happiness economics’) He indicated that his team just finished two huge wellbeing surveys during the COVID19 pandemics. The survey included a whole new set of questions which are based on the concept of Economics of Happiness. It asked questions about, ‘How much are you loved by your friends and family?’, ‘How long and well do you sleep at night?’, ‘How satisfied are you with your relationship with other people?’, ‘How much do you trust your government?’, ‘How much do you trust local merchants in your area?’. These questions were carefully designed to measure people’s feeling of happiness which is quite different from the traditional way of measuring economic success. He mentioned that the pandemic gave a great opportunity to rethink the weakness of our economic system and begin to see in different directions. 

He also introduced the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB as one of the pillars of the federal government’s COVID19 response which is leading to calls for a permanent basic income support program in Canada. (Globalnews Canada) Ottawa launched the CERB, which provided $2,000 a month to nearly nine million Canadians left jobless by the pandemic. And through this program the quality of people’s life has been highly enhanced. The basic income experiment shows that it helps not only people to sustain their life but also people to find the true happiness in their life which has been ignored for a long time. He pointed out that the financial burdensome on the Government can be regulated by the well designed policies. Government can sell the national bonds to people and the central bank can control the overall flow of money and government can also mediate the fluid of money through tax policy. He claimed that basic income is not only a matter of economic policy but also human rights which can protect and enhance the dignity of humans. 

Mark indicated that the young generation can equip themselves with skills and knowledge that go beyond the limitations of society. The post World War II global economic system caused all the crisis that we are struggling with now. Thinking outside of the box is critical to solve the problem of the climate crisis. The new generation can open a new era which will be quite different from the system that we have now. For example, crypto currency, even though there are some problems, it brought new concepts to the global economic system. 

Natalie said that US is undergoing a great shift. The belief in the free market system is going to end. The pandemic crisis hit the communities of color hard. Especially last year and throughout this year too, the demands and activities for racial justice are high. The climate crisis also hit California, the state is experiencing water problem and furious wildfire problem which are coined by the climate crisis. Up in this multifaceted crisis, the Economic Security is trying to catalyze ideas that build economic power for all Americans. The universal basic income is one of the solutions for this crisis. She pointed out that years of research show that when given unrestricted payments, recipients are able to pull themselves out of poverty and create economic stability for themselves and their families. That’s why we have invested in both on-the-ground and policy efforts to put more cash in the pockets of Americans who need it most. (www.economicsecurityproject.org

She introduced an example of Stockton, California. The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) is the nation’s first mayor led guaranteed income demonstration. Launched in February 2019 by former Mayor Michael D. Tubbs, SEED gave 125 randomly selected residents $500/month for 24 months. The cash was completely unconditional, with no strings attached and no work requirements. Aiming to test a simple yet innovative solution to poverty and inequality, SEED’s preliminary findings show how just $500 a month can provide the dignity and agency that everyone deserves. Through this experiments they found a couple of impressive results. The guaranteed income reduced income volatility, or the month-to-month income fluctuations that households face, it enabled recipients to find full-time employment, recipients of guaranteed income were healthier, showing less depression and anxiety and enhanced wellbeing, it alleviated financial scarcity creating new opportunities for self-determination, choice, goal-setting and risk-taking. The result indicates an increase in the well-being of people and communities. One recipient should have worked three different jobs to meet the ends of his family but now he is able to take his daughter to the swimming pool during the weekend. He also came to realize that he never had a chance to learn how to swim. Natalie claimed the guaranteed income will change how people invest time in personal life, community, education. 

She mentioned that our choice would be against the industrial oriented policy but the most important thing is to build a care-economy system. ‘Care’ should be infrastructured in the system. The priority of the society should be arranged in the perspective of mutual care for people, care for the marginalized, low wage workers who are suffering for sustaining their life. We need to make a social safety net for all people. 

Wen Tiejun introduced how rural areas in China overcome COVID19 through the resilience of the community. Many people in the rural area used traditional Chinese medicine to protect themselves from COVID19 infection. It was reported that over 50% of people who used traditional Chinese medicine were not infected by COVID 19. 

To a question of setting the priority in national policy in the economy, he answered that there is a big surplus of capital and how to use it is important to all people’s well-being. Agriculture has especially changed to become a capitalized agricultural industry. Industrialized agriculture creates a structural surplus, and this is what is happening in China now. If it is not carefully distributed, the surplus easily becomes waste. The bottom line is how to mobilize surplus products efficiently. Local Government and localized systems are important. At the same time, consumer’s choice for a better system is important, as well. Farmers also need to make an effort to change the culture of agriculture which would be more sustainable. A meaningful change from harmful to organic production is needed. Bridging new consumption styles and stimulating a new lifestyle is critical. 

He pointed out that younger generation in China tried a new lifestyle in these days. They went to the countryside and made new opportunities. It is an example of mobilizing labor. Workers in urban areas came back to the countryside as well. They made new small business in suburban areas. Young generation can learn from local people how to make a sustainable lifestyle. And they made efforts to become more creative in the rural areas and as a result it makes new economy in local areas. During the pandemic mega cities got harshly hit by COVID19 but the rural areas relatively easily overcame the crisis. He indicated that a carefully designed government’s economic planning in organizing money and mobilizing the capital to the most necessary areas is crucial. If the government allocates the resources wisely, it can make “one stone for not only two birds but four or more. 

Written by the Rev. Dongwoo Lee, PhD Candidate, Director of Ecological Civilization Korea 

Korean version. 한국어 번역 버전

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