The Economics of Happiness


The Economics of Happiness is a 2011 documentary film directed by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick, and John Page, and produced by the International Society for Ecology and Culture.   It was shown at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Park Forest tonight.   I attended the film and discussion afterwards, and wanted to write a blog post about the film.

The purpose of the film was to show the following:

  1. the traditional measure of the size of an economic, the GDP or Gross Domestic Product, does not accurately reflect the degree of well-being of those citizens of the economy
  2. the forces of globalization, in particular those favoring deregulation of finance and trade, are creating effects which undermine the well-being of the average citizen
  3. the way to slow the trend of globalization is to put emphasis on economic localization

1.   The accounting of happiness

The GDP of a country does not give information on the extent to which that “national wealth” is enjoyed by its citizens.    The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands will reduce the amount of wealth that is available to the majority of its citizens, for example.    Also, the negative effects of crime, pollution, and other factors that decrease the well-being of a nation’s citizens are not reflected in the traditional measure of that nation’s economy.

2.    Concentration of capital

The neoliberal prescription for the reduction of governmental regulations that constrain trade and capital flows has created effects, such as the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8, which have ended up decreasing the well-being of many across the world.

3.  Economic localization

The process of economic localization decreases the scale of economic activity, not its volume.    This means, in the case of purchasing food, that you are buying from a source which is local.    If I buy a piece of fruit that comes from Brazil, the cost of transporting that piece of fruit to my local grocery store is NOT factored into the price.    If it were, I would most likely buy a product that was grown locally because it cost less not just to produce, but to transport to where I am.

If the resources involved in transporting products were factored into its price, a lot more products would be procured locally, which would add money into the local economy.

The film talks about globalization in only the narrow sense of transnational corporations that want to use the power of national governments to obtain subsidies which will allow them to run roughshod over local companies and even local governments.    Economic localization would not only decentralize the global economy, but it would encourage global diversity of products and services.

For this reason, the film was hopeful in that it showed examples of many movements around the world that foster economic localization and how fast they have been growing.

I would recommend seeing the film, even if you may not agree with its premises or conclusion.    One thing is certain, that the current path of the global economy is not on a sustainable path.   Alternatives should be looked at that will make the global economy stronger and not weaker.

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