Interculturalists have long known that the answers to our world problems lie within the diversity of values and wisdom in the people of our world. Today I learned that economists are now agreeing with us.
For over seventy years economists have told us that growth is the solution to world poverty, that “growth” equals “progress.” Progressives and some of the world’s wealthiest have recently begun to advocate taxation schemes to redistribute monies from the wealthiest and thus build a bit of justice into our systems. Yet, neither approach will work.
Since 1980, the global economy has grown by 380%, but the number of people living in poverty on less than $5 (£3.20) a day has increased by more than 1.1 billion. That’s 17 times the population of Britain. So much for the trickle-down effect.
—Jason Hickel in The Guardian, 23 September 2015
We are already over-consuming Earth’s bio-capacity by 60%. The real problem is overconsumption by the world’s wealthiest countries, and the way in which we conceptualize “progress.”
Our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 “global hectares” annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares—many times their fair share.
In a wonderfully insightful article in The Guardian, Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics, tells us that an intercultural approach and cross-cultural values may be the solution to problems facing our world. Jason tells us how “economist Peter Edward argues that instead of pushing poorer countries to ‘catch up’ with rich ones, we should be thinking of ways to get rich countries to ‘catch down’ to more appropriate levels of development. We should look at societies where people live long and happy lives at relatively low levels of income and consumption not as basket cases that need to be developed towards western models, but as exemplars of efficient living.” Costa Rica, for example, manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.
“Perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses! According to recent consumer research, 70% of people in middle- and high-income countries believe overconsumption is putting our planet and society at risk. A similar majority also believe we should strive to buy and own less, and that doing so would not compromise our happiness. People sense there is something wrong with the dominant model of economic progress and they are hungry for an alternative narrative.”
Jason directs us to Latin American values such as “buen vivir,” living the good life, to which I’d add also a respect for the planet, Pacha Mama, and community values such as the African “ubuntu.” You can find in-depth explanations of hundreds of non-dominant values in Cultural Detective Online. Changing our western- and northern-centric definitions of progress to a definition more inclusive of the eastern and southern value system could be just the ticket to our survival as a species. Jason also points us toward books such as Robert and Edward Skidelsky’s How Much is Enough?
As Jason concludes his article:
Either we slow down voluntarily or climate change will do it for us. We can’t go on ignoring the laws of nature. But rethinking our theory of progress is not only an ecological imperative, it is also a development one.
This is not about giving anything up. On the contrary, it’s about reaching a higher level of understanding and consciousness about what we’re doing here and why.
Cultural Detectives, let us use this new-found recognition as a catalyst to breathe new motivation into our efforts!