consumption

The Covert Power of Creativity

By Alyce Santoro Because conceptual art can exist in non-material forms, one could argue that it is not only one of the most sustainable forms of creative practice, but also one of the most radical in its potential to challenge conventional thinking. To a tremendous extent, commercial media—whose primary function is to persuade its audience to consume—influences current prevailing thought. Conceptual art, by contrast, is often non-commodifiable; the value of an idea can supersede conventional methods of quantification, lending it a subtle, subversive, status-quo-defying kind of power.

The notion that all ecosystems, cultures, disciplines and systems are interconnected, and that we can cultivate a more efficient, healthy and satisfying existence by appreciating more and consuming less, run counter to the mainstream. In spite of the relentless promotion of the consumer mindset, one can find ample evidence of the tremendous human impulse to freely share and exchange information and other commodities simply by perusing the internet (the most culture-altering, wisdom-liberating development since Gutenberg introduced moveable type to Europe in 1439). Practical knowledge—including instructions on permaculture design, DIY, open source and appropriate technologies, petitions and calls for political and social action—is disseminated free of charge by those who, knowingly or not, describe a new social paradigm based on reciprocity, fair exchange and mutual benefit.

German artist/activist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) believed that when individuals contribute to the betterment of society by infusing everyday actions with creativity and reverence for nature then "everyone is an artist." He considered the fruits of such labor "social sculpture."

I didn’t know about Beuys when I first set out to combine art and science by seeking a degree in marine biology, then going on to study scientific illustration. As the detrimental effects of reckless human activity on the environment have become all the more obvious, my urge to express the intangible, profound mysteries contained in the natural world has intensified. My technical renderings have morphed into multimedia "philosoprops," works that challenge conventional boundaries between disciplines and spark dialog around social, political and ecological topics. While most of these pieces have a physical component, their essence is really the ideas behind them—and these are free for the taking.

For example, the concept behind my "sonic fabric"—a textile woven from cassette tape overdubbed with intricate collages of sound—alludes to the ultimate interconnectedness of everything. While I wholeheartedly embrace opportunities to repurpose materials, sonic fabric was not intended as a statement about recycling, per se. Rather, the project was inspired by theories in quantum physics suggesting that everything, at the most basic level, is composed of little more than vibration. When all the vibrations are woven together, the result is one exquisite, unified cacophony.

Like Beuys, I believe that by cultivating a relationship with nature and by honing and engaging personal creative aptitudes, everyone can become a catalyst for social transformation. While the powers-that-be wage an insidious war on the freedom to share information, the subversive force of cooperation and exchange is vastly underestimated, even by those with the potential to wield it. Shifts in the course of our culture depend on the quality of our thoughts. Everyone is a catalyst.

 

 

Contributor Biography

Alyce Santoro is an internationally noted conceptual and sound artist, writer and lecturer. Her written work has appeared in truth-out.org and wagingnonviolence.org, and her interdisciplinary art has been exhibited at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Trinity College Science Museum in Dublin, and the Gwangju Design Biennial in South Korea. She has been a visiting artist at the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and Lang College of the New School for Social Research in New York. Alyce’s ongoing Synergetic Omni-Solution project was presented by Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, TX as part of the 2011 Texas Biennial. Her work will be included in the 2012 ISEA (International Symposium of Electronic Art) in Albuquerque, NM. She affectionately refers to her studio as the Center for the Improbable & (Im)permacultural Research. Please visit http://www.alycesantoro.com for more information.

Manufacturing: The Key to Sustainable Business Innovation in the U.S.

By Daniel Riley and Jacob Park When President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union Address (1) last month, he made the case that U.S. economic revival is tied to a healthy manufacturing sector. Of course, he is not the first to triumph the importance of manufacturing to the economy. The key question, however, is what type of manufacturing the U.S. should have in the future. The answer, for the economy and for sustainable business innovation, may lie in advanced 3D printing technologies (2) or what some technology analysts refer to as, "additive manufacturing whereby machines based on advances in electronics and laser technology build complex materials from granules of plastics or metal" (3).

While not usually touted as a traditional sustainable technology, additive manufacturing processes can dramatically reduce the amount of waste created in the production of items from furniture to packaging. As compared to traditional manufacturing technologies, 3D printing technologies have relatively small capital requirements. MakerBot Industries (4), for instance, sells 3D kits designed for hobbyists for around $1,000.

According to the UN Environmental Program, the typical car wastes about 10,000 kg of raw materials during production (5). For example much of the bulk of a fender, because of uniform thickness requirements of typical manufacturing processes like welding and molding, is completely unnecessary. To Jim Kor of KOR EcoLogic who wanted to create the most efficient car possible, that unnecessary material increased drag and decreased fuel economy. "If you look at a cross section of a bird bone, you'll see that there is bone only where the bird needs strength," Kor explained. "The bone looks like chaotic webbing. [3D printing] is the only process that can replicate a bird bone." This logic led to the creation of the Urbee, the world’s first 3D printed car (6).

Like stacking bricks to build a house, 3D printing creates objects in layers, from the base up, without the limiting constraints of molding requirements or human error in welding. The result maximizes material usage, ensuring that no material needlessly goes from welder’s torch to junkyard. Even in smaller 3D printing projects, material use efficiency is an automatic consideration. The small scale of production typical of most 3D printing efforts means that, unlike with large-run manufacturing the cost of wasted material does not have to be ameliorated through economies of scale.

Shapeways, a company that allows customers to design custom products like furniture and household objects that might be hard to replace otherwise, actively encourages customers to save money by using less material (7). By prompting their customers to actively think about the materials that go into the production of their products, 3D-printing businesses like Shapeways foster consumer awareness of cost and material wastes involved production. This transparency is increasingly relevant as consumers demand that products be not only cost competitive (obviously an important factor in our current economic times) but also designed and produced with environmental sustainability in mind (8).

In addition, the U.S. is still dominated by the business model of making as many products as cheaply as possible, which often means outsourcing the actual manufacturing.A truly innovative feature of the additive manufacturing model is that it brings the possibility of scale to the emerging "hyperlocal" trend that can be seen from Northern California to Vermont. There are many emerging sustainable business enterprises that attempt to build on the growing consumer interest in all things local (e.g. food, energy, economic development, etc) and additive manufacturing provides a market template from which to scale a local business model to greater competitive advantage.

Case in point: what if a small community-oriented bookstore like Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, had a machine that allowed consumers to print books that were in the Public Domain (i.e. do not have copyright protection)? All you would have to do is search and find the book of your choice and, if it were in the Public Domain, order the number of copies you want at a fraction of the cost of going through traditional book retailers. Through what Northshire Bookstore refers to as "print on demand technology"(10), this small but innovative business can now more effectively compete with large e-retailers like Amazon.com and chain book retailers like Barnes & Noble.

The argument that the future of the US economy lies in sustainable business has been made before, and additive manufacturing cannot substitute for well-designed tax and other policy incentives for green energy technologies. Rather, there is a strong case for building a well-articulated U.S. additive manufacturing strategy to complement current green technology research and development efforts, such as solar and wind energy. This could have a major impact on the entire American business system By using 3D printing technologies to promote local production and advances in material sustainability, U.S. manufacturing has a real opportunity to be reborn as a hub of 21st century sustainable business innovation (11).

As Cory Doctorow, author of Makers, suggests in an influential 2010 Wired magazine article (12): "The days of companies with names like ‘General Electric’ and ‘General Mills’ and ‘General Motors’ are over. The money on the table is like krill: a billion little entrepreneurial opportunities that can be discovered and exploited by smart, creative people."

References

(1) President Barack Obama State of the Union Address (January 24, 2012)

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/24/us/politics/state-of-the-union-2012-video-transcript.html

(2) "The Fundamentals of 3D Printing," The Future of Open Fabrication, n.d., http://www.openfabrication.org/?page_id=29

(3) March. P. (2011) "Production Processes: A Lightbulb Moment", Financial Times, December 29, p. 5.

(4) http://www.makerbot.com/

(5)  "Waste and car production - Maps and Graphics at UNEP/GRID-Arendal," Maps & Graphics, n.d., http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/waste_and_car_production

(6) "URBEE car - 3D Printed Body," Resources: Case Studies, n.d., http://www.stratasys.com/Resources/Case-Studies/Automotive-FDM-Technology-Case-Studies/Urbee.aspx

(7) "Shapeways | creating hollow objects," Creating Hollow Objects, n.d., http://www.shapeways.com/tutorials/creating-hollow-objects

(8) OgilvyEarth research is one important source http://www.ogilvyearth.com/thought-leadership/latest-research

(9) Alexa Clay and Jon Carnfield, "5 Big Ideas for a New Economy", Co.Exist Blog http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679221/5-big-ideas-for-a-new-economy

(10) http://www.northshire.com/books_on_demand.php

(11) 3-D printer is featured in Fortune Magazine’s "Brave New Work: The Office of Tomorrow" photo essay (pg. 49-55) in its January 16, 2012 "The Future Issue"

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2012/01/16/toc.html

(12) http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/all/1

Contributor Biographies

Daniel Riley (email: rileyd@greenmtn.edu) is a senior studying Environmental Management at Green Mountain College. After graduation he plans to start a business using 3D printing as a way to solve current environmental issues of resource use and material efficiency.

Jacob Park (email:parkj@greenmtn.edu), Associate Professor of Business Strategy and Sustainability at Green Mountain College, specializes in the business of social and environmental innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging economies.

Worm Share

By Amy Youngs The Worm Share project encourages symbiotic relationships between humans and worms. Through experimental artworks, participatory designs, workshops and networking technologies, I facilitate the travel and propagation of composting worms into domestic spaces and encourage others to do the same. In exchange, the worm colonies provide valuable ecosystem services.

Eisenia Foetida is a species of worm suited to living in a wide variety of situations, including domestic spaces. These hearty creatures are able to efficiently turn our food and paper waste into plant fertilizer. Vermicomposting (worm composting) can happen in a very local way—in a kitchen, a basement, an office or in a bin embedded in furniture—and it can empower individuals to participate in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Landfills and organic wastes thrown in traditional composting bins decompose and emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. On the contrary, the process of vermicomposting emits no harmful gas or unpleasant odors. The byproduct of worms is a nutrient-rich material that looks and smells like soil.

The project began with artworks that integrated live worms into sculptures and furniture within domestic spaces. In my sculpture Digestive Table, for instance, a flow-through worm bag was built into a functional table so humans could literally share a meal with worms. People observed the composting activity of the worms on an LCD screen built into the table surface and connected to an infrared camera that monitored the worms’ activity below. I posted the building plans for this sculpture online to help popularize vermicomposting by inspiring others, who might also have desired a useful and aesthetically pleasing worm home, to reproduce the table. I soon discovered that there was far more demand for a simpler, utilitarian version of the flow-through worm bag—one without the table or the camera technology. Once I posted my simplified worm bag designs online, a community of builders developed. People I’d never met began to construct their own bags, ask me questions, post suggestions and upload photos of their finished projects—many of which, based upon a builder’s needs or the materials available, diverged widely from the original. I was impressed with the improvements and evolution of the design that spontaneously occurred just within the comments section of the instructions webpage: http://www.instructables.com/id/Worm-bin-bag-for-indoor-vermicomposting-and-easy-s/. With more than 59,000 viewers and 160 public comments, this project has had more exposure than most of my gallery exhibitions.

Recently, Worm Share has taken on the form of workshops that encourage people to design their own creative worm bins to fit their lifestyles and the needs of the worms. Everything from custom kitchen cabinets to bike trailer bins have been imagined and some of the new designs are being field tested now. All of the workshop participants who are ready to build their bins, are encouraged to take home a pound of free starter worms, which come from my own worm colony. Worms are a never-ending, regenerative source, multiplying based on the amount of food and space available. Workshop participants also learn how they can double their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by freely sharing their worms with friends and strangers. Worldwide worm sharing is possible through the online network, Vermicomposters.com, which encourages people to identify their general location on a map and willingness to share worms with others. Free and anonymous worm sharing regularly takes place in my town via porch drop-offs. In exchange, I encourage the people receiving starter worms to "pay it forward" and become a future worm-sharing node within this community of creative design and open-source sharing.

Click on the image to advance to the one. Point the mouse at the bottom of the image to see additional controls.

[aslideshow play=false playframe=false width=640 height=450 nextclick=true controls_hide=true]

[/aslideshow] World map of vermicomposters (red markers identify a person willing to share): http://vermicomposters.com/

Photos of Worm Share Workshop at Spaces Gallery in Cleveland, OH: http://hypernatural.com/wormshare.html

Digestive Table sculpture and worm bag construction plans: http://hypernatural.com/digestive.html

Contributor’s biography Amy M. Youngs creates biological art, interactive sculptures and digital media works that explore the complex relationship between technology and our changing concept of nature and self. Obsessions include creating artificial nature experiences, spying on worms and constructing indoor, edible ecosystems. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is an Associate Professor of Art and Technology at The Ohio State University. To learn more about her, please visit her website at http://hypernatural.com.

Photo Credits: Photo 05 is a compilation of photos that were posted to the comments page of Young's "Instructable" for building a worm bin. Photo 08 from Spaces Gallery Staff.

Material Histories: Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, 16th Street [1/4 square mile] Phoenix, Arizona + Brush Creek Road [2 miles] Snowmass Village, Colorado

This project takes as assumption that every space and every thing is connected on all sides to the whole rest of the world.

These pictures record events of exploring public space on foot. Each walk becomes a collection of objects gathered from a particular explored place. As a walker-gatherer, I am childlike, measuring value in curiosity and storing it in a shoebox under the bed. I am like a bowerbird, seduced by a brightly colored speck and the glint in the corner of an eye. I am also street sweeper, curator, naturalist, and anthropologist of my own culture and time on these walks.

Each image is a subjective and arbitrary sample of an accumulated surface up to the collecting event. Multiple histories are invoked— the gathering walk, the implied stories of how each thing came to be there, and the history of the representation and study of land. I arrange the objects as if a strong wind blew through a natural history museum display case. Things float in the void like the wild energies they rode in on—having fallen out of private ownership, public systems of recovery, or nutrient cycles, landing first on public land and then into my hands. Artifacts and engineered materials intertwine and mingle with natural resources. Stripped of their context for careful observation, the objects refer back to the places and inhabitants from which they came, becoming social and environmental mirrors.

Top photograph:

Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, 16th Street [1/4 square mile]

Phoenix, Arizona

44" x 156"

Archival inkjet print on bamboo paper

2009

Bottom photograph:

Brush Creek Road [2 miles]

Snowmass Village, CO

24" x 35"

Archival inkjet print on bamboo paper

2004/2009

Contributor's Biography:

Julie Anand is Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator for Photography at Arizona State University. These works from her ongoing Material Histories investigations were part of the Defining Sustainability suite of exhibitions at the ASU Art Museum Fall 2009. She received her Master's of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico. An interdisciplinary thinker and desert lover, she studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology as an undergraduate before becoming smitten with photography. Having replaced the burden of proof with the celebration of subjectivity, her mixed-media and photographic artworks draw on the ecological principle of interdependency. Her work questions conventional boundaries including those between science and art, between artistic disciplines, and between the body and its environment. Her work often uses history-rich materials like wood, soil, and water to speak to the unity of things through the cycles of matter.

Memory of Water: The Salt River Project

The Salt River Project follows the Salt River from the recreation areas East of Phoenix out to the Gillespie Dam West of Phoenix. It is the story of an urban desert river. The project begins with the conceptual framework provided by high water marks. Clumps of dirt, plastic bags and plant growth five feet up in trees serve as a reminder that the dry riverbed is not dead, but only dormant. Too often in the desert, water concerns orbit around the idea that we're using up all our resources and that the dryness is a sign of the dismal future. Though transient communities have made the river channel home, and others use it as a dumping ground, sooner or later the water will rise again. Everything found in the channel is colored with this knowledge.

In exploring the Salt River bed and banks, the garbage becomes remnants and artifacts. [aslideshow] Eroded Riverbank. Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area east of Granite Reef Dam.

High Water Mark. Below the 101/202 interchange where Mesa, Tempe, and the Reservation meet.

Transient's Tent. Below the 101/202 interchange where Mesa, Tempe, and the Reservation meet.

Faded Memories. Below the 101/202 interchange where Mesa, Tempe, and the Reservation meet.

Post Flood Detritus. Salt River at Central Avenue in Phoenix.

Plastic Bag High Water Mark. Salt River at Central Avenue in Phoenix.

Dry River Bed. Salt River at 7th Ave in Phoenix.

Thirst Buster. Salt River at 7th Ave in Phoenix.

El Mirage Flooding. Salt River at El Mirage Rd west of Phoenix.

Gillespie Dam Blown Out By Flooding. Gillespie Dam."

Fish Stranded After Flooding. Gillespie Dam.

[/aslideshow]

I am an archaeologist attempting to piece together the meaning of each pile of trash dumped and beer can left behind. Who, why, when? People have left marks of recreation, as well. Fire pits, beer cans, and fishing wire. Good times gone, more than just footprints left behind.

I become sensitive to the difference between different kinds of dry. The dry of the surrounding desert contrasted against the dry of the riverbed, which is filled with the memory of water.

This project is part of the Phoenix Transect Project at Arizona State University.

The project can be seen in its entirety at http://www.adamthorman.com/saltriverproject.html as well.

Contributor's Biography:

Adam Thorman was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his BFA in Photography from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 2003 and his MFA from Arizona State University in 2009. His work has been exhibited nationally. He currently splits his time between Berkeley, CA and Prescott, AZ where he teaches photography at Prescott College.

Too Much of a Good Thing: The Relationship between Money and Happiness in a Post-Industrial Society

By Alison Dalton Smith Happiness is considered a universal human aspiration, but the means to achieving happiness has become inexorably entangled with gaining material possessions.  In common paradigms of economic development, Gross Domestic Product is used as a proxy for measuring the well-being of a nation’s citizens.  While this is often true in impoverished nations where basic needs are not met, there is a threshold point past which increasing economic gains no longer necessarily deliver increases in human well-being.  Beyond this threshold, economic measures are no longer adequate for accurate measurement of a nation’s human well-being. In fact, this myopic focus on economic growth has created an unsustainable way of life that is increasingly unfulfilling for those that are engaged in the cycles of consumption.  In this paper, I will address both recent patterns in human well-being in industrialized nations and more comprehensive indexes that quantify human well-being.

Sustainability is the interaction of three aspects of life: environmental, economic, and social. Citizens and researchers alike accept there are causal effects of increasing economic activity and resulting environmental degradation. The link between the social aspect of life and economic activity was long thought to be a positive one;  I contend that this assumption only holds up to a certain point.  I will not try to pinpoint the threshold in this paper, but will only bring together different sources of information to show that increasing economic growth does not bring positive social returns in all cases.  The growth of literature on this topic began with psychology and has recently been developed by economists.  I will explain the terminology used and data sources in the first part of the paper, examine the data trends in the next part, and finally make recommendations for how we can address the issues presented in the paper.

The concepts of happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction have been used interchangeably in the literature addressing connections between economic growth and social returns, although recent studies show that there are significant differences between happiness and life satisfaction (Veenhoven, 1991; Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002). Peggy Schyns (1998) found the correlation between life satisfaction and happiness to be .90, which supports this interchangeable use.  However, as quality of life studies have progressed, some researchers have begun to separate the two.  Happiness has been defined as affective (influenced or resulting from emotion), and life satisfaction as cognitive (the process of thought) (Diener, 2004).  Happiness research has generally been based on surveys that ask just one question.  Subjective well-being (SWB) is a term often used to indicate a more comprehensive approach to life satisfaction that incorporates happiness and other judgments of the overall quality of life (Hoorn & André, 2007).

The national accounts of well-being, created by the New Economic Foundation, is a completely different approach to well-being assessment.  People are asked not one, but 50 questions about well-being from personal and social aspects of their lives.  This approach is especially important because it can be used across socio-political scales, from tribal to national levels. (New Economics Foundation, 2009).

Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach is another atypical approach to human well-being assessment.  This approach, developed in the 1980s, is different from the data analysis approach. The freedoms of individuals are the building blocks and, "attention is thus paid particularly to the expansion of the ‘capabilities’ of persons to lead the kind of lives they value and have reason to value," (Sen, 1999, p. 18).  The benefit of using this paradigm is that it can be applied across values systems, cultures, languages, and scales because it allows the user to define the values intrinsic to the evaluation (Sen, 1999).

Richard Easterlin challenged the perception that economic growth would lead to increases in happiness in his seminal paper, Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? (1974). The findings of his paper are known as the Easterlin Paradox.  He made three conclusions that led to debate and research for the next thirty years.  The first was that people with higher incomes are happier than those with lower incomes within the same country. He claims causality from these findings from income to happiness (Easterlin, 1974).

Second, he concludes that his findings for individuals does not hold up for countries; "…if there is a positive association among countries between income and happiness it is not very clear," Easterlin, 108, 1974).  His third conclusion is that as a country’s GNP increases, its population does not get happier.  He only has data from the United States, as there were no other countries with time-series data on this issue.  These last two findings have not held up over time. In-depth analysis on this topic can be found in Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox (Stevensen & Wolfers, 2008) and Subjective Well-Being: Three Decades of Progress (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999).

Easterlin’s first finding that rich people tend to be much happier than poor people was corroborated by subsequent research (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002).  While rich people tend to be happier, this is only part of the picture.  Rich people do not get any happier with more money (Scitovsky, 1992). In fact, from 1946- 1970, per capita real income rose by 62 per cent in the US, but reported happiness did not change substantially (Scitovsky, 1992).  In the rest of the paper, I will address this occurrence.

Between 1946 and 1996, per-capita real income rose by a factor of 2.5, but average happiness has remained the same (Frey & Stutzer, 2002). Figure 1 shows a perplexing trend that has occurred in the United States.  Since the mid-1960s, the percentage of very happy people in the United States has actually decreased slightly while GDP per capita has skyrocketed. Figure 2 shows that a similar trend has occurred in Japan.

income_and_happiness

satisfaction

Figure 3 shows cross-national data of a nation’s GDP per capita and SWB Index.  From the graph, we can see that GDP is not the most significant determinant of a country’s SWB.  Countries with similar cultural patterns and political states tend to cluster together.  While high SWB does not rely solely on high per capita GDP (there are both rich and poor countries with high SWB), it does appear true that low SWB does not occur in countries with high per capita GDP. In countries where large numbers of the population are extremely poor, people have too little to eat, or are homeless, happiness measures do increase when everyone’s income rises (Frank, 2007).

"]Figure 3: GDP per capita vs. Subjective Well-Being for the Different Societies (Inglehart, R. Foa, C. Peterson & C. Welzel (2008).)[A1]In developed countries, Richard Layard found a peculiar occurrence: as people gained more income, their perceived income requirement rose.  People base their satisfaction on their current income based on what they have and what they want to have.  As the gap between their wants and needs widen, their current incomes become insufficient.  Because of this phenomenon, Layard concludes, it is difficult for economic growth to improve happiness (Layard, 2005).

Ruut Veenhoven suggests that wealth is subject to the law of diminishing returns after a country surpasses industrialization (Veenhoven, 1991).  This finding was repeated in Ed Denier’s international study.  He showed that happiness rose sharply as GDP per capita increased when GDP was at a basic subsistence level, but after a nation industrialized, happiness rose at a slower rate (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002).

In addition to the diminishing returns on income, people tend to adapt to their circumstances, thereby negating the gains in happiness that they initially experienced (Myers, 2000). Figure 4 shows how people adapt to an increase in income and form new aspirations based on their income level.  An increase in income brings about a downward shift in the aspiration curve, which neutralizes increases in happiness (Frey & Stutzer, 2002). This may lead one to believe that any policy aimed to improved people’s happiness is futile. However, Brickman and Campbell contrarily show that after people experience an initial uptick in their happiness due to life circumstances, they do not go all the way back to a point of neutrality, but to a point slightly higher than they were before (Brickman & Campbell, 1971).

Figure 4: Happiness and Aspiration Shifts (Frey & Stutzer, 2002)

The following explains the scenario above:

"Initially, people have a certain aspiration level A1 so that income Y1 produces happiness H1. Raising income, say from Y1 to Y2, raises happiness from H1 to H2… However, over time, aspiration adjusts to the higher income level.  The aspiration level curve A1 shifts downward to Am. Ex post, the rise in income from Y1 to Y2 does not produce any increase in happiness…" (Frey & Stutzer, 2002).

Income inequality within a society can lead to unhappiness through failure to meet aspirations.  Juliet Schor noted that in the late 1980’s income inequality grew and people were feeling deprived in comparison to those at the top.  Even people who made $100,000 a year felt poor because they were comparing themselves to the nuevo riche of the day (Schor J. , 1998).

Other factors have also contributed to stagnation or decrease in overall happiness in developed countries.  Both men and women have increased their working hours since the 1950s.  From 1969 - 1987 women have increased their hours yearly by 305 hours and men's hours have increased by 98.  In addition, Americans are working more overtime, and paid time off has been decreasing since the 1980s (Schor J. B., 1991).  The time spent to get to these jobs has also increased.  Commuting is often a solitary and stress-inducing activity (Baker, 2004).

Perhaps the strongest explanation to the paradox of money and happiness lies in how GDP is calculated. GDP analysis shows that the United States has gotten much wealthier as a whole over the past thirty years.  However, by aggregating incomes across classes, GDP masks income distribution.  At the same time that happiness began to stagnate in the US, so did real household wages among the working classes.  Figures 5 and 6 show that prior to 1979 all income brackets were growing relativly equally, but since the 1980s incomes at the top have increased incredibly, while the bottom and middle classes have seen much lower growth rates.   So, while GDP steadily increased, most Americans were not getting significantly richer.

Figure 5: Changes in before-tax household incomes, 1949-1979 (Frank, 2007)

Figure 6: Changes in before-tax incomes, 1979-2003 (Frank, 2007)

Indexes other than GDP may be more suited to capturing life as most humans experience it. Below I will briefly describe a few alternative indicators: the General Progress Indicator, the Happy Planet Index, and the National Accounts of Well-Being.  I have intentionally left out the much-cited Human Development Index.  While the index does indeed provide another perspective on development progress, it uses GDP as an indicator, which does not get us to a new paradigm of progress or development.

Each of these indicators has been accused of being biased towards one policy agenda or another--that they each incorporate value judgments.  Cobb, Halstead, and Rowe point out in If the GDP is up, Why is America so Down? that GDP is also not value-free; in fact, it values the social and environmental aspects of life at zero. It also fails to differentiate between money spent on negative circumstances--such as the revenue from a divorce and the cleanup and restoration efforts after a natural disaster--and money spent positive events (Cobb, Halstead, & Rowe, 1995).

The General Progress Indicator begins with personal consumption expenditures, weighted by an index of inequality in the distribution of income.  Additions to production are made for non-market benefits associated with volunteer work, housework, parenting, and other socially productive efforts as well as services from both household capital and public infrastructure (Talberth, Cobb, & Slattery, 2007).

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is another more comprehensive index.  It focuses more on the ecological cost of development.  The indicators used are ecological footprint, life-satisfaction and life expectancy (New Economics Foundation, 2009).  The HPI was created by the same organization responsible for the National Accounts of Well-Being and can be used a policy tools in tandem with them.

Development directly affects human well-being. Studies have shown that increasing wealth, whether measured in income growth, GDP, or GDP per capita, does lead to increases in well-being when basic needs are not met.  However, that link has led our policy makers, politicians, and academics to ignore an equally obvious occurrence that after a threshold point in industrial development, that relationship no longer holds up; increasing wealth then has diminishing returns to human well-being.

An increasing awareness of a growing global environmental crisis has prompted worldwide movements to change destructive behaviors. However, the idea of "cutting back" is often falsely associated with reducing one’s happiness or well-being.   Human well-being is at the forefront of development policy and incredibly important to governments around the world, as shown by the Millennium Development Goals.   Development policies need to expand to address the whole spectrum of development—both in developed and developing nations.  By recognizing that increased consumption may not increase human well-being in developed nations, policies may be designed that not only benefit people, but reduce their impact on the planet that sustains them.

References

Baker, D. (2004). Reassessing the consumer price index. In E. N. Wolff, What Has Happened to the Quality of Life in the Advanced Industrialized Nations? (pp. 81-120). Northhampton : Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Bergh, J. C. (2009). The GDP paradox. Journal of Economic Psychology , 30 (2), 117 - 135.

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Contributor's Biography:

Alison Dalton Smith works in international higher education development at the University Design Consortium at ASU.  Her interest in international development results from having lived in Latin America, Asia, and Europe.  She is particularly interested in the link between consumption and standards of living.