Archive for Individual Responsibility

Happy Planet Index

The Happy Planet Index, unlike other forms of measuring of the health of a country, measures the relative happiness of the people in that country irrespective of most other measures that countries are normally subject to such as GDP, trade  surpluses or infrastructural considerations. We might ask then why the list is topped by Costa Rica and Vietnam.  The Happy Planet Index is calculated as follows:

Experienced happiness is measured by a poll of people in each country, Life expectancy is from the UN Development Report and Ecological footprint is from the WWF.

When the people of Costa Rica were polled, they were actually found to be quite happy in comparison with most other countries. They were not the highest by any means. Vietnam, on the other hand, came somewhat further down the list than countries like the US and Canada in terms of how they ranked purely based on happiness. So why did they rank second on the global Happy Planet Index?

The author of the index includes one other major factor in the rating, specifically, the index includes the resource usage of the country, which in theory should give a measure of the sustainability of that nation based on the fact that it uses few resources and will therefore be able to sustain its level of happiness over a longer period. Based on these two factors combined, Vietnam did well because its’ current level of resource usage is very low on a per capita basis.

There are obviously factors that the HPI does not take into account which might make this index incorrect. For example, countries like Vietnam, in their effort to achieve greater “success” for the people, are tending towards an open market economy. While not necessarily a bad thing, it also means that the ecological footprint of today is most likely not the footprint of tomorrow. In China, as an example, a more open economy has meant that  it generates more wealth overall, at the same time importing pollution from and exporting resources to more wealthy countries such as Canada and the US where the absolute level of happiness as citizen polls indicate, are higher than in China and Vietnam. This is precisely because we benefit from their footprint increase while at the same time decreasing our own footprint. Unfortunately, this can’t be adjusted by a mathematical re-allocation of footprint, because the impacts are real. So while Vietnam’s happiness polls are likely to go higher with increased wealth, it’s ecological footprint is likely to soar, thus lowering it’s happy Planet Index.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Thankfully, the government of Vietnam has some awareness of its need to grow sustainably. It’s Ministry of Environment asks the right questions and, at least on the surface, it is striving to manage this process of growth and sustainability.  Provided that the government is able to manage the corruption found in the political realm and enforce strict standards to significantly limit environmental impacts, it may have a chance of maintaining it’s good standing on the index. But there are pressures on the Vietnamese government as with any other country. People do not want to be poor and they do not want to be only partly happy. Businesses, likewise, want to take advantage of available resources. Even major projects in other countries may impact Vietnam’s well-being. For example, water flowing through China supports much of Vietnam’s river economy. As water is stressed by a growing industrial base, so too will be Vietnam’s environment . The increasing demand for light metals such as aluminum for automotive and many other applications have resulted in mining operations which threaten to strip the rich bauxite resources from Vietnam primarily for export while leaving behind lakes polluted with Red Mud and coffee crops poisoned with heavy metals downstream. A growing number of coal fired power plants from their vast reserves of coal will provide power for the millions of people and the growing industrial base while turning the coal into  CO2 which impacts climate and airborne pollution similar to that which has so severely impacted the cities of China. While there will be jobs created for some Vietnamese, like China and every other newly industrialized country, they will begin to suffer the impact of automation. While theoretically having the potential to benefit the people by reducing costs and increasing availability of many goods, it may also leave the country stripped of resources, while  significantly curtailing job creation, destroying some industries such as localized agriculture which provides many people with a meager but reliable income, and leaving the people possibly even worse off than they were before. Ensuring that industrial benefits and wealth are fairly and wisely distributed will be one of the greatest challenges.

The Happy Planet Index is a good start. It is a measure which tells us where we are and gives hints at where we need to be heading. On the other hand, it is not an exact measure and it is not a recipe for success. For that, we need to look deeper at the political, business, agricultural, familial, social, spiritual and other systems that contribute to our well-being.  As much as I would like to have faith that people will do the right things to make a better life for the vast majority, the evidence in most countries suggest that we are prepared to sacrifice future happiness for current desires. This appears to be even more true for those who have most benefited from the wealth and those in positions of power who are willing to exploit all resources to benefit themselves with very little regard to the impact they are having on others. Let us hope that the majority learn from our mistakes and strip the power from the most egregious offenders.

A read of the World Happiness Report is extremely enlightening. The report outlines the sources of happiness and discounts the view that wealth and happiness necessarily go hand in hand. It also measures happiness differently than the happy planet index, relying on methods defined by the Gross National Happiness index developed in Bhutan which puts Denmark at the top and yet it identifies some of the same policy related issues. The Bhutan index identifies four major pillars for happiness.

1. Equitable and equal socio-economic development
2. Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage
3. Conservation of environment and
4. Good governance which are interwoven, complementary, and consistent.

While we can never guarantee the benefits of any national policy, politician or political system, it is certainly worth having a closer look at those countries which top the happy planet index as well as the World Happiness Report index, especially those that have  happy people and a more sustainable lifestyle to see what they are doing right. It the case of Vietnam, voting for your government representatives is impossible unless you are involved with government. Those of us who live in democracies should never be fooled into believing what our government representatives want to tell us unless there is hard evidence. Before you vote, if you truly want a happier society and a happier life, read these reports and study these indexes and allow them to inform your thinking before voting. We will all be better off if our governments and government representatives take us in more humane and gentle directions.

Keep happy,

Garth Schmalenberg

 

 

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A new vision of Prosperity and Business for our future.

In this post, I’ll cover:

  • What makes us prosperous?
  • What makes us happy?
  • How our vision and worldview influences our happiness, our prosperity and our businesses

What makes us prosperous?

On the surface, personal prosperity comes in the form of income, money, investment equity and personal assets. But when you really think about it, prosperity isn’t a physical thing. It’s a feeling of gratitude. When we feel thankful, we also feel richer.

So for example, if I have a Lexus and I’m thankful for it, I might feel prosperous. But if I lack gratitude when I realize that it’s a 20 year old car, that feeling of prosperity rapidly dissipates. Or supposing that my colleague has a more expensive BMW that I’d rather have or that someone has the same car but a bigger fancier house that I am envious of. Without gratitude, at very best, this kind of prosperity is relative to your surroundings.

» Continue reading “A new vision of Prosperity and Business for our future.”

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North to Gulu: The Mystery Deepens

This is the second in my series about my trip to Uganda. As in my first post in The Case of the Missing Development, I had many questions to answer about factors that were contributing to a lack of development. Many of my answers would come during my journey to Gulu. (if you haven’t read that post, go there first for context).

First, for any first time travelers to Gulu, if you don’t have your own vehicle or private transportation, your best bet is to take the postal bus north from Kampala. The postal bus is well maintained and safety is considered. If you have trouble mixing with the local people or if you are shy, you may find this your best bet since more ex-patriots travel on the postal bus. As for me, I enjoyed the trip north, but quickly learned to love being with the Ugandan friends and after my first trip on the postal bus, I began venturing out to the other bus lines on which I generally found myself alone as the only foreigner. It was great.

The Ugandan people are extremely friendly. One smile, a friendly hello and I always found myself in deep conversations. It was on the way up to Gulu for the first time that I met Joyce, a woman who worked for the church in Gulu and who later introduced me to Patrick, a young man who had extra room in his (rented) house and with whom I found not only a place to stay, but who became like a younger brother to me. Patrick, I later learned was one of the many children who was abducted by the LRA and ended up spending 8 years serving, first as a soldier at the age of 13 and then after being shot in the leg, he served in the LRA medical camp. I still keep in touch with him on skype and facebook. This was an opportunity to learn first hand about the war and about child soldiers.

Topics for today? First, reconciliation after the war, second, some of my thoughts on the economy and corruption… Read More » Continue reading “North to Gulu: The Mystery Deepens”

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Debt relief of Africa and Impoverished Nations

After studying more about the issues of debt in many impoverished nations, the question that kept coming to mind was,

Where is all the wealth?

A healthy world would undoubtedly have sufficient resources to feed every person, to provide health care and to give each individual a decent living. But success continues to elude the global community.

The situation of poverty in many countries is deplorable. Expecting impoverished countries to get themselves out of poverty is unreasonable because the impoverished are trapped in a causal loop. Poverty removes the possiblity of adequate education, health care and proper nutrition for billions. Each of these factors reduces the probability that children of the next generation will have incomes sufficient to allow them to pay taxes. WIthout taxes, the governments are unable to pay back billions in loans that have accumulated over the years. While they strive to provide security and a minimal form of governance, they are saddled with crippling  interest payments on loans of prior generations.

How should wealth be re-distributed?

» Continue reading “Debt relief of Africa and Impoverished Nations”

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Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work. Let’s shake it up with the Salad Dressing Theory of Economics (Take 4)

After even more thinking about how to address issues of social in-equality, I updated the original article.  So here is the updated version (Take 4, 6 Feb 2013).

Trickle Down Economics isn’t working the way it was intended and never did.

What’s really happening is more like the separation of Oil and Vinegar. The more you let an economy stagnate, the more the wealth floats to the top like Oil and ends up in the hand of the rich with less in the hands of the poor. But having all the oil on top makes terrible salad dressing. Separation continues until someone creatively does something about it.

There are two scenarios that we are seeing playing out (and a third scenario that could make a difference):
1) The poor can shake up the economy or,
2) The rich can shake up the economy or,
3) (The government can shake the economy)

» Continue reading “Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work. Let’s shake it up with the Salad Dressing Theory of Economics (Take 4)”

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Articulating the issues of Occupy Wall Street and possible solutions

The Problems with Occupy Wall Street

Whenever I see the news about the demonstrations on Wall Street, commentators ask questions about demands and conclude with statements like ”the demonstrators have no clear demands” but frequently point out that they share common frustrations.

The challenge lies in the complexity of the situation which has several underlying and intertwined causes. Although they perceive an injustice somewhere in the economic structure, they don’t know exactly where to place the blame, and they don’t appear to know what to do about it other than voicing their anger. I have yet to hear any suggestion on what they want done or who they expect should do it.

In this article, my attempt is to articulate what I believe are some of the underlying issues and a few potential solutions along with who should take action.

» Continue reading “Articulating the issues of Occupy Wall Street and possible solutions”

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Human Security and Peacebuilding

Among the many aspirations of my own life are personal goals for learning. My current learning initiative involves studies at Royal Roads University, a Masters degree in Human Security and Peacebuilding.

While I begin to dive into this effort, I hope to share with my readers some of the learning and insights I gain. This learning will focus primarily in one or more threads of articles, but I’ll be certain to ensure that all entries will be listed in the category of Human Security, Peacebuilding or both, along with the category on Personal Learning.

Learning at the best of times has been provided to us in the form of classes that are taught to us by our Teachers and mentors. In post school years, much of our learning is in books and for those who don’t read, it has been filtered down to a form of entertainment through news media and other forms of educational programs and documentaries. But excellence is ultimately developed through an on-going effort of learning through personal investigation, the application of learning in action, and the refinement of learning through reflection.

As I go through this program, I will periodically share thoughts on the learning process as well as the specifics of what I’m learning about.

My initial learning to date is opening my mind to the many contexts of globalization.

These include: economic, military, peace efforts, humanitarian efforts, water security, food security, industrialization, logistics, ecology, climate science, climate change mitigation, war, terrorism and other interdependencies which impact our current world situation.

Further to this is the consideration of formulating research questions in areas related to human security. What constitutes a good research program, how is it structured, how is it focused and what are the applications of it’s outcomes?

For now, I’m just started in the program (this is really my first day of immersion) so I’ll stop here.  There will be many more related entries to come over the next few years.

As I proceed, I will make an offer to any organization, be they business oriented, religious, social (NGO) or governmental, who are interested in learning more about human security or peacebuilding to share questions they might like to be researched in related areas, especially if they are willing to sponsor that research.

In addition, I would be very happy to speak to any organization on learning related to either my own research, my others areas of expertise in coaching, relationship development or leadership, or any other related topics. Not only will speaking act as a compliment to my studies but as an implicit contribution to my work as Executive Director at Partners for Prosperity whose goal is to create the capacity for global prosperity individually and within communities. Hopefully, it will also serve the dual purpose of supplementing my personal finances (which are limited while I study) while contributing to your organization’s collective wisdom and capabilities.

While I’m not yet in the position to adopt a specific research question, having access to a specific application of research outcomes certainly makes the effort more interesting.

Keep reading and keep learning,

Garth Schmalenberg

 

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