Rethinking Prosperity

As a citizen of a community that seems to be the favored child of our current economic order, it is tempting to consider growth and prosperity as inevitable by-products of our superiority. However, I have long worried about the limitations and flaws in how we define being prosperous. True, Austin has nearly doubled in size every twenty years for over a century, but are we growing in a way that improves our lives and contributes to our well being? Is the only measure of prosperity the height of our burgeoning skyline or the scale of our economy?

Obviously, these questions seem more pressing in communities that are not faring as well as our's. (Including the unseen swaths of Austin where people are working feverishly - often holding multiple jobs - to stay afloat in our city.)

So, what does it mean to live prosperously as an individual and as a community?

The Guardian has just launched "Rethinking Prosperity" an exploration of "alternatives to the economic system."

Here is an excerpt from the first in this new series of essays and articles:

The current economic system has created great wealth and brought hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty, but in its search for continuous growth, it is increasingly becoming a destructive force that is stimulating climate change, resource scarcity, growing inequality and biodiversity loss on an epic scale.

As the well-known fund manager Jeremy Grantham has stated: “People simply do not get the point that you can’t have sustainable growth forever. You can have sustainability forever, or growth for a few years. Capitalism does millions of things better than the alternatives. However, it is totally ill-equipped to deal with a small handful of issues. Unfortunately, they are the issues that are absolutely central to our long-term well-being and even survival.”

The collective failure to re-imagine another pathway results in focusing our intellectual power on trying to prop up the existing system, even though this is akin to putting a plaster on a gaping wound. This is the sort of thinking that led the president Bush to urge Americans to “go shopping more” to help dig the country out of recession – doing more of the thing that helped trigger the crisis in the first place.

In fact, our very addiction to consumerism, like all other addictions, is designed to avoid having to look into the abyss of our own lives. But if we are to restore some sense of balance to the world, it is vital we move away from the actions of the famous quote: “spending money you don’t have for things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”

(Hat tip to Josiah Duran at Front Porch Republic.)