Rethinking consumption: Measuring success through well-being and happiness

So, thank you for having me, thanks, Mike,
for the introduction, Elder Whiskeyjack and Councillors. I’m gonna rip through seven minutes of shock and awe, hopefully inspiring some new thinking. As Michael said, as Mike said, I just returned from Seoul, Korea where I was invited by the
mayor of Seoul and several distinguished philosophers and guests to talk about a
new economy based on well-being, the movement towards what the Chinese called an ecological civilization. That’s a bold initiative. What China’s doing is quite remarkable and Korea, I think, is on the same path and I would challenge
Canada to consider the same trajectory. Last year, I released my second book, The
Economy of Well-being, which makes the proposition that the economy exists for
the well-being of all people and in particular, needs to be in harmony with
nature. The Beatles sang, you know, Money Can’t Buy You Love, and that’s partly true, though it is true that a certain level of income buys a certain
level of happiness. That number’s around $70,000 for a household in Canada. So if you’re making $70,000 and you’re grumpy, you shouldn’t be grumpy. The average Alberta household makes about $95,000 and a lot of people don’t make $70,000 as a household, so we have work to do still, in improving our living wage condition. Did you know what the word “happiness” actually comes from the Greek word “eudaimonia”, which means well-being of
your soul or well-being of spirit and we think happiness might just be an emotion
but it’s a deeper sense of well-being of your spirit. The world happiness research shows that despite… this is a slide… despite increasing levels of income in the United States and since 1950 though, the level of happy Americans has
actually been going down and we see for the first time, life expectancy declining
in the US due to opioid and other overdoses. Now it turns out the coldest
countries, like Canada, are the happiest. Finland ranked number one last year and
Canada is stuck at seventh which is pretty great. The happiest nation for the least amount of GDP is Costa Rica – they’re a little warmer than we are and they have more fruit, I guess. But they have no military and so maybe we can learn something from the Costa Ricans. In 2009, the senior economist of the City of Edmonton, an enlightened economist, hired me, my team, to develop the first well-being index for the City of Edmonton. This was supposed to guide the City’s strategic plan and be a measure of success. That program was cancelled in 2012, just as I came back from New York with the Bhutanese prime minister talking about how progressive Edmonton
was so I encourage all the councillors to resurrect – we have vital signs which
the report just released yesterday but I’m talking about actually asking
citizens about their subjective well-being. When you wake up the morning, how much joy do you feel? Do you feel anxious about money? We don’t know that about Edmontonians. Now this graph is pretty interesting. It shows that in 2008, you see the downturn in Edmonton’s economy while the GDP went down, but the index of well-being has continued to rise. But we don’t have an update on that index. While measures of progress are flawed, Robert Kennedy once said we’re measuring everything except things that make life worthwhile.
I’m amazed that clock isn’t counting down. What did Bobby Kennedy mean? In 1968,
he said that the gross domestic product, the measure of success since World War II,
which counts all the money that changes hand, all the consumption – the
more we consume, the more disasters we have, the more divorce we have, more
cancer we have – the more GDP grows. So you get the formula, isn’t that right? We want more cancer, don’t we, in Alberta? Turns out, the rate of cancer, the incidence of cancer, is directly correlated with GDP, if you map them together. Shocking. So we could say we’re kind of in this cancer stage.
Now one of the most interesting things I’ve discovered – and I’ve just published this on LinkedIn this afternoon –
is this relationship between money, or debt money, and well-being.
Now that graph there shows you an estimate of 38 cents of every dollar we will make
today is going to pay for hidden interest charges on the collective amount
of debt in our economy. That debt never stops growing. So my proposition to the world is, if we want a sudden serious strike on change, then we need to deal with this issue. It’s obvious that the amount of
interest charged on that debt is directly related to GDP growth, and
therefore greenhouse gas emissions. So my estimate for the US – this is 38 cents for Canada, in the US is 52 cents on every dollar – that means half of your work week
is going to pay for these hidden interest charges. Now, could we eliminate that money?
I think we could. In fact, we have one of the biggest public banks in
North America called ATB Financial, which is our bank – it’s one of my favorite
subjects, but I digress. But if we wanted to get serious about a real solution to the climate change, we could stop GHG emissions in its tracks. The good news is that when I did this assessment for the City of Edmonton, and I remember talking to Ben Henderson, I said, if we look in the rearview mirror, we are
actually making great progress in the city, that the amount of our carbon footprint has been declining as electricity use and natural gas use per capita is going down – you might say while it’s still the absolute emissions are increasing, we know we have to reduce our global absolute emissions by between 25 and 55 percent, not to get above the 2 degree rise in
temperature. But this is good news, that our emissions have been declining. Again, I stopped the update in 2009. This is a terrible graph. Here we here again we have Edmonton’s GDP relative to energy or electricity use. The amazing thing, we have these great programs – we had the provincial program which allowed us to offset some of the investment in solar electricity and my wife and I, who’s in the audience, we run a company, we have a small business, and I asked my accountant, is it possible for me to become my own utility company? So, what do you mean, he said. Well, if I invest in 24 panels on my garage roof and I write off that capital expense, what’s a depreciation schedule? I’m an accountant. It’s 30% a year. That means the solar arrays are written off in five years. Thank you, PACE, thank you for maybe an interest-free loan. Well, why doesn’t every business do this in Edmonton? Why are there only 450, I think, households right now that
have solar panels on the roof? It’s not enough and we can do more because we have more sunshine hours than Germany. So there’s our little array. It took them a
while to get the panels because there’s so much demand, the United States, they couldn’t get the panels from Korea, the ones we wanted. But now we’re producing more electricity than we’re consuming, at least for the last few months. Of course, it’ll get dismal in December, but that’s okay – the payback is still great. Let me close by reflecting on some survey work I’ve been doing. I’ve developed a little well-being, subjective well-being survey that people have voluntarily taken from around the world from Singapore to Pakistan to Edmonton
to Washington DC to London, England and asked 36 questions about your subjective
well-being, your perception of well-being. I call it the soul print. And the
interesting correlations here are fascinating. The key question, how do you rate
your life satisfaction today, thinking about your life today, on a scale of 1 to 10.
So the response gives you a score out of 10. And here are the five top correlates with that question. Number one, so correlates being which other responses are the highest statically correlated with a life satisfaction question. Number one, feeling peace in your soul.
Number two, hope for the future. Number three, love of yourself when you wake up in the morning. I actually asked that question. Number four, un-loneliness.
Right? I’ve inversed it. And number five, feeling of joy. You’ll notice money is not on that list, at least, enough money to meet your needs is on the list
but it’s ranked 14th. That’s interesting. I personally believe the climate crisis or
the climate emergency is an opportunity for us to renew a relationship with the
earth and with each other. The signs of happiness says, relationships matter most to our happiness. We can change our economy, we can build a new economy based on well-being where well-being is a bottom line of cities and no longer GDP. That we ask people the subjective questions and we are bold enough to address the responses we get back. Not everybody’s happy. So this crisis is an opportunity.
For the Chinese, crisis has both two possibilities. The opportunity, in my mind, is to orient our lives and our economy to one’s well-being and ultimately, that the truth of our common aspiration is to experience love. Thank you.

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