Economy of Enough

NDP Leader, Rachel Notley, celebrates
 her party's victory in Alberta's provincial election.
I observed with interest this week as there was a drastic shift in Canadian politics - the New Democrat Party won a majority government in Alberta. This result signals a strong shift in direction, probably more away from something, (i.e. the previous government, The Progressive Conservatives) rather than to something. And the reaction is mixed. As one friend who lives in Alberta summarized, “there’s lots of fear and lots of hope.”

In my observation of the mixed reaction, I’ve noticed an underlying assumption. Behind the complaints and uncertainty (some of it justified based on past government’s track records) is a societal assumption rarely questioned: nonstop economic growth is the required (or best) trajectory individually and for society.

Personally, I’ve encountered this throughout my life, particularly as an adult. Language of "getting ahead" is applied in all sorts of circumstances as the measure of success. A good margin of profit selling a house allows for “upward mobility.” Another degree earned allows for career advancement and more earning power. This is “progress.” As Christians, we can even spiritualize such success with phrases like “God has blessed me.” Again, economic growth is an assumed good all around.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for economic well being, personally and socially. And in Alberta, as with all political contexts, no one ruling party has the perfect plan to achieve such well being. So questioning political parties is fair game. But in the process, let’s also question the very assumptions by which we evaluate our leaders. And when our grid for well being is economic growth, both personally and socially, we can end up unknowingly accepting an unsustainable and, at times, even an unjust view of society.

It can be unjust in supporting an economy that is only “free” for people who have the means to participate equally to begin with. One look around at urban neighborhoods reveals that the assumed good of economic growth is anything but freeing for the scores of homeless individuals and families. And it’s unsustainable in presenting a false vision for happiness. Studies show that increased wealth doesn’t equal increased happiness. As Ron Sider summarizes, “People tend to measure their happiness by how much they consume relative to their neighbors. As all try to get ahead, most tend to rise together so everyone is frustrated by their unsuccessful efforts to achieve happiness by getting ahead of others” (Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, 238-239)

Imagine a response to economics - and likewise a political view - if our default wasn't grasping for more, but was rooted in a healthy concept of enough. Enough money. Enough possessions. Enough growth. Or as Sider would suggest for Christians, let’s imagine and adopt a “theology of enough” - the belief that humans exist for more than unending consumption.

Call it whining about “first world problems.” Or blind assumptions for defining success. Or corporate greed. Or whatever other label or symptom we can name. But an unquestioning reliance of an economy of growth only perpetuates injustice and this unsustainable vision for life, personally and socially. Instead, let’s engage politics thoughtfully, constructively, and sustainably, not from a perspective of growth at all costs, but from the belief that enough is enough. Maybe Alberta will lead the way. Maybe not. But as Canadians and as global citizens, I hope we can aim for an economy of enough.


1 comments:

kar0ling said...

"...a societal assumption rarely questioned: nonstop economic growth is the required (or best) trajectory individually and for society."

"...an economy that is only “free” for people who have the means to participate equally to begin with."

"Imagine a response to economics - and likewise a political view - if our default wasn't grasping for more, but was rooted in a healthy concept of enough."

Yes! Thank you.

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