Why are we all so busy?
Whatever happened to the confident predictions of 30 years ago that material progress was leading to a new world in which we would, by the year 2000, all have so much leisure time that we would have to invent new ways to use it? That idea seems to have vanished and been replaced by the view that we must all work harder for less, in order to compete with the rest of the world to improve our standard of living. Australians now spend more time at work than they did twenty years ago and work the longest hours in the developed world
What is going on? “What do we mean by “standard of living?” Does it mean having a car, a bathroom, a television set, a mobile phone, a sound system and a personal gymnasium for every member of every Australian family? If so, we still have some way to go. And we will have to work harder to get us all there. The problem however is that while that may be attainable for 15 or 20 million Australians (if we build a big enough fortress around the country,) there simply are not enough resources on the planet to provide those things for the other six and a half billion people who share the planet with us. And would we all be happier if that happened anyway?
Our busyness is being driven by the belief of many economists and echoed by most of our political leaders, that we must at all costs, maintain the kind of economic growth that has resulted in a massive increase in Australia’s wealth in the past twenty years. That belief can be vigorously challenged.
Assumptions about the way the economy should operate and the rules which govern global markets and trade are said by some to be a large part of the problem of modern Australian and world society and because they are so important to our daily lives, we need now to get these assumptions out in the open and debate them.
Many believe there is already more than enough wealth in the world to feed, clothe, educate, house and provide a satisfying life for all of the 6.5 billion people on the planet as well as the extra two or three billion that we are expecting in coming decades. One postulated reason it is not happening and that some groups are getting overly rich and overworked while others are starving, is that the economic system around which the world is now organised, is flawed.
That is the view of many scientists and growing numbers of economists who think we must now review the way the current economic system operates and what it is doing to societies like ours as well as to the rest of the world.
Shouldn’t we leave economics to the economists?
No, economics is for all of us. We all need some understanding of the forces that are driving our world. The economic fashion that is variously labelled economic rationalism or neo-liberal globalization, has been driving the Australian and world economy for twenty years. Many believe it has run its useful course and needs to be modified to pay greater attention to the environment and to human welfare. The problem is that the groups who control the global economy are benefiting from it and have little interest in changing it. Giant corporations are now more influential than many nation states and the health of big business often takes precedence over the health and wellbeing of the environment and the population.
People power will be required to restore the balance and ordinary people now need to become better informed about the alternatives. We all need to be involved.
What could SEE-Change Centres do about this?
- Suburban “town meetings” about “What is happening to our workplaces and the quality of our lives? “
- Static displays describing the way the economy works and how economics has evolved in the past two hundred years
- House meetings to discuss the book mentioned below .
- Public meetings with elected representatives to explore differing ways to modify the economy to address environmental concerns and human welfare
- Participation with local schools in project work, art competitions, debates and provision of resources on the topic “What makes our economy work?
- With the assistance of local high school children, collection of local data about employment, work patterns, leisure time activities and possible future directions for Australian society
- Distribution of a neighbourhood “work and leisure watch” as part of the “neighbourhood watch.”
- Meetings with local Rotary to discuss ways in which work can become a less stressful and more enjoyable part of community living
- Developing a reference collection that people in the area can consult on the the way the economy works.
- Meetings of informed citizens with politicians to discuss ways in which Australia could play a more appropriate role in meeting the Millenium Development Goals.
Further Reading: Affluenza: When too much is never enough, by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss, Allen and Unwin, 2005