Economics is not just a topic for discussion among academics, politicians, and policy-makers. If you are a worker and a consumer, economics matters to you, because you are making money and spending money. And economic sustainability matters to you, because there is only so much money you can make, and so much money you can spend, and how to get the most out of both over the length of your working life, your spending life, and the lives of your descendents matters to you.
How can we ensure our economy stays strong?
A strong economy requires a motivated, productive workforce. Although the case is often made that the global recession is not the time to make radical change, surely the very moment when it’s clear our work policies aren’t meeting our needs is the right moment to rethink our approach. The White House Council of Economic Advisers reports, “[T]he best available evidence suggests that encouraging more firms to consider adopting flexible practices can potentially boost productivity, improve morale, and benefit the U.S. economy.”
Is growth always better?
In 1930, revolutionary economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that within a century, we’d all be working 15 hour weeks, with the remaining time devoted to leisurely pursuits. He assumed that as the standard of living rose, our approach to work would adjust accordingly. Of course that vision has not materialized, and some economists say that’s because he didn’t account for our constant stream of new goods being supplied by technological advances, nor our insatiable desire for those goods.
Is meeting that desire worth the price? And will that growth last forever? Nobel Prize nominee Kenneth Boulding warned, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” The New Economics Foundation reports that “3.1 planets would be needed to support everyone in the world at UK levels of consumption,” suggesting that economic growth in its current form is unsustainable. NEFis taking a radical approach to sustainability and looking to build a a new macro-economic model geared towards “achieving the outcomes that are important to society and that can be sustained by the planet’s finite carrying capacity,” rather than towards infinite growth.
But even if continued economic growth is our aim, how can we ensure we grow in a sustainable way? And shouldn’t we consider whether growth should be tailored to fostering an expanding middle class, rather than widening the gap between rich and poor? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports, “While the middle class is rapidly expanding in emerging and developing countries, in rich countries it is shrinking and feels incapable of defending the standards of living that have characterised a middle-class lifestyle for centuries.”
What opportunities might arise from people spending less time in traditional work mode? Is it possible that more time spent with friends and families, pursuing creative outlets, contributing to community projects, or volunteering, could benefit society in ways we have yet to imagine?
In our willingness to accept the status quo when it comes to work, we are not just risking our own current satisfaction and productivity. We are risking our future. Get involved.