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Rethinking economics

['Perspectives with Shirley Hallee']
['Perspectives with Shirley Hallee']

Perspectives with Shirley Hallee

No question about it...there is a very real difference in the distribution of wealth throughout the world, including within the countries that are considered to be democratic. A few hundred years ago Samuel Johnson stated “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”

A current citizen from England, an economist, has published a book which gives a fairly solid blueprint for a healthy economy in today's world. The title of the book is Doughnut Economy, and the author is Kate Raworth. She makes a strong argument for rethinking how we can create a healthy economy...and it is not just about increasing the GDP or national output. In fact, Raworth believes humans must change the goal regarding economics.

For much of the 20th century and into the 21st century the focus has been on growing the output. We are at a point now where there are extreme inequalities of income and wealth...and the environment is being destroyed. Raworth notes that “as of 2015 the world's richest 1 percent own more wealth than all the other 99 per cent put together.” When there are huge numbers of the very poor, human rights and safety are impacted. We are seeing massive migrations of people throughout the world. Wars cannot be blamed for all of this movement.

In an effort to help us understand the balance needed for a strong and healthy economy, Raworth uses a simple doughnut shape. The outside ring is the ecological ceiling, just inside is the social foundation with a safe and just space for humanity. The centre, or the hole, is either critical human deprivation...or it is made up of adequate food, water, health, education, income and work, political voice, social equity, gender equality, housing, networks, and energy. Only when that strong centre exists do we have a chance to deal with issues threatening the environment.

To support the focus away from wealth accumulation as the measure of an economy, Raworth pointed to the words of English social thinker John Ruskin who stated, “That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings.” Ruskin was a man of the mid-19th century. His ideas have been carried forward by many economists of the 21st century. Amartya Sen, who was awarded a Nobel-Memorial prize, argues that, “The focus of development should be on 'advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live.'”

We are seeing unprecedented climate changes. We are finally beginning to understand that the health of our lands and oceans...and the availability of fresh, clean water and air...is a huge part of a nation's economy. A recent news report indicated that greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 14 per cent in the United States since Donald Trump took office. Early in his presidency Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord. We have also become aware of the massive numbers of people entering the U.S. at the Mexican border. Poverty and violence are the biggest reasons for this migration.

I have a simple, cost effective solution for Trump and his immigration problem. Rather than rescinding aid agreements or threatening to take aid away from the countries that its citizens are fleeing from...maybe it would be a good idea to put funds in place to help those countries build their economies and improve quality of life for its citizens.

The dollar cost of a bit of aid to those countries might be much less than what is being spent at the border to house and feed huge populations of migrants – let alone fund the courts related to immigration hearings, and then returning many to their country of origin. It is not just about money. It is also about compassion and being humane.

Shirley Hallee is a freelance writer living in Amherst. Her column appears weekly in the Amherst News.

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