The Economics of Happiness (movie review)

by Bronwyn Slater

 

happThis is a documentary which was written, produced and directed in 2011 by Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder of ‘Local Futures’ and author of the widely-acclaimed book ‘Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalising World’.  The book is an account of her time spent with the people of Ladakh in the Himalayas, and it is an experience which forms the basis of the documentary.

Until recent times Ladakh was a small community, isolated from the modern world.  The people sustained themselves through farming and regional trade.   They were a close-knit community and seemed happy and fulfilled, with lots of leisure time, plentiful food and a strong sense of their own identity.

But in the mid 1970’s Ladakh had a sudden and rude awakening to the modern world as trucks rolled in bringing cheap foreign imports of food and other goods, exposing the people to Western-style advertising and consumer culture.  After a period of about ten years their way of life had completely changed and for the first time they experienced unemployment, depressive illnesses, a disconnection from nature, pollution and a gap between rich and poor.

The documentary is made up of two parts.  The first half of the documentary looks at the ways in which globalisation is detrimental to communities, the environment and livelihoods.  The second half looks at how localisation can enhance people’s lives, regenerate communities, heal the planet and generally make us happy.

The following statements are made regarding globalisation:

  • Globalisation makes us unhappy  –  There is a rise in the incidences of depression as a result of globalisation.  We are constantly exposed to images of a lifestyle that we must measure up to, and affluence tends to undermine community which can leave people feeling isolated.
  • Globalisation breeds insecurity – Corporations are dictating what our children want to buy and what they should care about.  People in a global economy lose their own cultural identity starting from childhood.
  • Globalisation wastes natural resources – Natural resources are already stretched to breaking point yet we are encouraged to buy more and more.
  • Globalisation accelerates climate change – Food is flown from one part of the world to another just to be processed, then sent back again.  Countries routinely import and export identical quantities of the same products.  For example, the U.S. imports 365,350 tons of potatoes and exports 324,544 tons of potatoes each year.  70,820 tons of sugar are imported and 83,083 tons are exported.  Argentinian lemons fill the shelves of supermarkets in Spain while local lemons rot in the ground.  Half of Europe’s peas are grown in Kenya.  The list is endless, not to mention bizarre.  (See graphic on the next page).
  • Globalisation destroys livelihoods – Jobs are major casualties of globalisation.
  • Globalisation increases conflicts – Small farmers are pushed off the land.  There is increased competition for jobs and ethnic and other tensions rise.
  • Globalisation is built on handouts to big business  – Government subsidies and rescue packages support and maintain large corporations and industries.
  • Globalisation is based on false accounting –  If poverty and unemployment are a problem then more economic growth is usually the answer.  War, cancer, obesity, heart diseases and other epidemic illnesses all ensure that the economy grows as there is always someone making money.  None of this takes account of the actual quality of people’s lives or the environment.

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Norberg-Hodge’s solution is to create local economies.   The points she makes in this regard can be summarised as follows:

  • We should nurture local business and local jobs. Small businesses generate wealth in more equitable and sustainable ways.   They also have less of a negative impact on the environment since there is less transportation involved.
  • Famers markets, community supported agriculture, transition towns, eco-villages, co-operatives, slow food, permaculture, edible schoolyards and urban gardens are all examples of the localisation movement and these should be encouraged and supported.
  • We should regulate the banking system and break up banks that are ‘too big to fail’. Money should be our servant rather than our master.
  • There should be local production for local needs, wherever possible. For example, local materials should be used to build houses.
  • ‘Genuine progress’ should take into account our human social wealth in addition to monetary wealth. Our individual well-being is increased as a result of localisation because as economic activity decreases we increase our connection to the natural world.  This is a fundamental human need.  People’s lives are enriched as they spend less time commuting and work closer to home.   Health improves as people eat locally-grown fresh produce, and there is an overall decrease in pollution.
Farmers forced off their land end up in dire poverty—many thousands have committed suicide.
Farmers forced off their land end up in dire poverty—many thousands have committed suicide.

Overall, I enjoyed this documentary and felt it was worth watching.  It was well made and it makes the case for localisation very well.

Running time is 67 minutes and you can rent the documentary online here at Vimeo

You can find an excellent explanation of Globalisation and its impacts and how Localisation helps to address some of these problems here

 

 

This article is part of the Creative Commons and is free to publish under a CC licence.

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