What’s The Economy Really For?

Wanda UrbanskaWe ask the question “What’s the Economy For, Anyway?” by airing a clip from John de Graaf’s new movie of that title and talking to Wanda Urbanska about LESS IS MORE: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness. She co-edited the book with Cecile Andrews. Michael Moore’s latest film Capitalism: A Love Story opened recently across the country. It’s a stunner – not because it just might be his best film, but because of some of its stunning revelations. One is the 2006 leaked memo from Citigroup’s global strategist Ajay Kapur.

He calls the U.S. a “plutonomy,” where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.  He’s not judging it good or evil.  Kapur is simply writing a report for investors, and he’s telling them what they need to know to make the smartest investment moves.

Kapur writes, “Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer.” And they are: income inequality is now at an all-time high.  But Kapur says there are risks to this state of affairs. One risk is that the “rising gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash.” That’s because, while “the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfranchisement remains as it was – one person, one vote.” In other words, democracy could threaten the current economic system.

So what’s an economy for, anyway? Is it to reward the wealthy few? Is it even what everyone tells us it’s for: economic growth? Growth is measured by Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. But as many have pointed out, GDP goes up no matter what’s driving the increase in spending, such as when people get cancer treatment, or insurance costs go up after disasters caused by climate change.  And GDP doesn’t measure other things that make us happy, like volunteering or spending time with friends and family.

John_de_GraafThe new film “What’s The Economy For Anyway” addresses these issues. It’s by my old college friend, John de Graaf, who is best known for his book, AFFLUENZA. He also produced the PBS Special, Escape from Affluenza. In the book and TV special, De Graaf points out that our obsessive quest to amass more stuff is destroying our communities, our health, and our planet.  In his new film, he says an economy isn’t – or shouldn’t be – about quantity of stuff, but about quality of life.

And what makes us happy? That question is answered by a host of writers in a new book co-edited by guest Wanda Urbanska. She says genuine happiness comes from having more time and downshifting to a lower consumption, more satisfying lifestyle. LESS IS MORE: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness counts among its contributors the afore-mentioned John de Graaf, Bill McKibben (Deep Economy), Ernst Callenbach (Ecotopia), David Korten (Agenda for a New Economy) / and Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American and The Overspent American.

Urbanska hosts the TV show Simple LivingWatch a clip.