Economic development and growth is basically the prime goal of every nation on the planet. Billions and billions of dollars are been spent annually on economic growth projects worldwide.
In some development circles, there is a thought that if the economy is doing well– the lives of those living in the economy will be better. This is often referred to as the “trickle-down effect”. That prosperity will trickle down to those less fortunate.
Unfortunately, this is not a reliable nor sustainable way to ensure that basic needs are being met or any real indication of anything other than the ability to yield high market value for the goods and services produced.
If the goal is to be ever-increasing– where does it ever end? When do we stop increasing our economies, or does it ever stop? Are we doomed to a never-ending race for the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?
Some of the countries with the fastest growing GDPs are still experiencing tremendous poverty among their poorest inhabitants and the increase in GDP does not appear to correlate with any increase in human rights protection or poverty reduction or any semblance of general well-being. Within the top ten countries with the fastest growing GDP sit Macau, Angola, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Equatorial Guinea, Anguilla, Republic of Congo, Solomon Islands, Mongolia, China, Armenia, Liberia and Peru. Afghanistan currently sits as the 16th fastest growing economy if that gives you any indication of how much economic growth translates into poverty reduction, respect for human rights or general well-being of the population.
So maybe economic growth doesn’t translate into well-being, but what about having a large GDP? Among the countries with the largest GDPs sit China, Russia, and India. Poverty is still a massive problem in all three areas, and human rights violations frequent occurrences. Clearly then, a large GDP doesn’t in and of itself cause the trickle down of development.
So if the ultimate goal is ever-increasing GDP or ever-increasing market value of goods and services produced; who will be the ones consuming this ever-increasing amount, where will the waste go, and where will the raw materials come from to supply this ever-increasing amount of productivity?
Why is the measure of how much can be produced the number one goal of almost every country and enforced as a primary goal in the poorer nations through global development programs by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank? Wouldn’t the measure of general well-being, or respect for human rights, or lack of poverty, or even the level of democracy rank higher than production?
So why don’t governments change this goal to something more sustainable in the long-term?
Mike Nickerson, who founded the Sustainability Project, suggests a different goal for governments; one of long-term well-being.
To get there our activities must:
“1) Use materials in continuous cycles.
2) Use continuously reliable sources of energy.
3) Come mainly from the qualities of being human (ie. creativity, communication, coordination, appreciation, and spiritual and intellectual development).”
*** To which I add 4) Respect the human rights of all affected populations.
“Long-term well-being is diminished when activities:
4) Require continual inputs of non-renewable resources.
5) Use renewable resources faster than their rate of renewal.
6) Cause cumulative degradation of the environment.
7) Require resources in quantities that undermine other people’s well being.
8) Lead to the extinction of other life forms.”
I like to think of it as respecting the human rights of all those on the planet, as well those who will be here in the future. It’s not about global warming, or native rights, or some isolated issue. It is a holistic issue involving all our rights. If one of our nationals within our country’s rights are infringed upon, then all our rights have been infringed upon. We need to act together, no matter who we are. If we don’t speak up for the rights of others, who will speak for us when our rights are trampled on?
If our air is polluted, our rights are being infringed upon. If our water is polluted, our rights are being infringed upon. This is a global issue. Our actions affect the world, and their actions affect us.
Until our goals become to respect human rights and to have long-term well-being– we will not progress as humans. We will just become more efficient at producing crap that we don’t even really need or want that will in the end just kill us all.