Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Wellbeing Manifesto

In my earlier discussion of left-wing values, one of my central points was that economic growth is of merely instrumental importance -- what really matters is human flourishing. Much economic and political discourse seems to lose sight of this crucial fact. Enter The Wellbeing Manifesto:
There is widespread community concern that the values of the market — individualism, selfishness, materialism, competition — are driving out the more desirable values of trust, self-restraint, mutual respect and generosity. Many people feel alienated from the political process; the main parties seem too alike and think of progress only in material terms.

The challenge of our age is to build a new politics that is committed, above all, to improving our wellbeing.

It goes on to detail nine policy proposals aimed at meeting this challenge (of which I will merely quote the headlines):
1. Provide fulfilling work
2. Reclaim our time
3. Protect the environment
4. Rethink education
5. Invest in early childhood
6. Discourage materialism and promote responsible advertising
7. Build communities and relationships
8. A fairer society
9. Measure what matters

#9 echoes my earlier complaint. #1 and 2 are also very important, I think. Many people spend the majority of their waking hours slugging away at dull or draining jobs, just so they can buy the latest superfluous gadgetry. (And then we wonder why depression and suicide are so prevalent in our culture.) Reclaiming and restraining the workplace could potentially make us all a lot happier. This of course ties in with #6 - so long as advertisers have free reign to manipulate children's desires, it will be difficult to restrain materialism and reform the broader culture.

#3 goes without saying - harming the environment harms humanity. We are sadly failing in our obligations here. Similarly for #8, particularly with regard to foreign aid.

#4 I'd cautious support. Introducing the Philosophy for Children programme into all our primary schools would be a good start. I've written more about my views on education (including my misgivings about some radical leftist approaches) here.

#5 sounds sensible. #7 is also important, though I'm not sure it's something that government can really do much about. It's up to us as individuals to develop civil society and contribute to our communities through volunteer and non-profit groups. But perhaps more could be done to engage the interest of young people, and let them learn how rewarding these sorts of projects can be. (I've really enjoyed mentoring, for example.) I don't really know about what sorts of civic opportunities are out there, and I imagine most other young people are similarly ignorant. So policies geared towards "lowering the barriers to entry" for civic engagement could, I think, do a lot of good.

I'm especially interested in the potential of the internet (through blogs, wikis, and so forth) to develop civic communities and enable the public exchange of ideas. It's not something I know much about, granted, but it seems to me there's an awful lot of potential here...

So, those are my thoughts on the nine theses. They're officially aimed at Australians, but seem to apply just as well to our situation here in NZ. So I endorse the manifesto, and encourage you to do likewise! :)

Update: There's also some discussion of this over at Frogblog.

10 comments:

  1. Absolutely endorse it . The problem is, as always, that opinions about how an economy MUST be are in conflict with the ideals. ( especially perhaps 'fairer society".) Never mind. If the ideals are sought strongly enough something may give.

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  2. 1. Provide fulfilling work

    this is a very prodestant work ethic approach. Why provide work at all? Maybe we just need to adjust the capitalist system to take into account that workers dont make rational job choices. I suggest implants that measure stress levels and tax the company according to those levels :).
    Otherwise it wont matter what you provide peopel will keep on making the wrong choices and your effort will be wasted.

    2. Reclaim our time

    Well I guess the point here is to make the market (production side) less competitive and less efficient. Seems like your going to need the whole world in on this one.

    3. Protect the environment

    good

    4. Rethink education

    A bit of strict government intervention might help. I suggest charging full cost plus profit for useless courses or useless combinations. Again your problem is individuals not smart enough to make hte right decisions.

    5. Invest in early childhood

    Hmm maybe monitoring of whether parents are meeting performance standards?

    6. Discourage materialism and promote responsible advertising

    You cant promote responsibility you have to use disproportionate and vindictive punishment for lying and trying to mislead in advertising.

    7. Build communities and relationships

    sounds like an argument for importing collectivists - I suggest nth korea :)

    8. A fairer society

    Fair is a very confusing term it implies a value judgement but it leaves that judgement open so it gets support from everyone because no one realises that no one else interprets it the same way as them. So without elaboration I guess this is nonsense.
    Personally I think a brutally agressive commerce commision and a comission to stop lies in advertising (and I would stop people saying their food tastes nice unless they can dam well prove most poeple agreed - and even then face fines if they were proven wrong)

    9. Measure what matters

    Indeed - but I think we covered comercialism so besides that I think this also is a bit of a 'we all support it but dont agree what it is" sort of thing

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  3. If you follow the link I provided, you'll see that they do in fact "elaborate" on each of the points. And no, none of it involves totalitarianism. (I can never tell whether you're being serious when you start advocating measures that sound like they're straight out of Orwell's 1984. It's rather disturbing!)

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  4. Surely you realise totalitarianism is the best way to achieve good utilitarianism?
    the only barrier (admittedly a VERY considerable one) is the lack of trust in the totalitarians.
    Ideally you would have a Isacc Azimov foundation robots /second foundation thing going on.

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  5. I hope you're joking. Otherwise, you really need to read some J.S. Mill (who was, recall, one of the fathers of utilitarianism), or learn some history. People distrust totalitarians for good reason.

    Anyway, this is getting a bit off-topic, so I'll leave it at that. If you wish to further debate the utility of liberty, please continue the discussion here instead.

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  6. I am not a student of the history of philosophy like you (which I don't think is a bad thing - I think the study of philosophy via personalities is counter productive). but I can discuss that i nthe other place

    Anyway
    1) i think my comment stands
    2) again my comment stands - if asia works 50 hours a week and europe works 30 europe will inevitably decline because it will produce less import more consume more etc

    4)they want to do somthing very different from what I want. I think they are wrongon several levels
    a) students gain utility from having a job when they leave - not having one is stressful and they EXPECT education to give them one.
    having six careers doesnt mean educating people for none of them is a good idea.

    Competition helps poeple to find out what htey are relitively good at - it is wrong to make them think they are good at somthing they are not good at. that being said there is nothing wrong with not being good at somthing. If so then focus on being good at somthing else.

    b) school is ALREADLY just like what they say as opposed to what they oppose hardly anything in school (or uni for that matter) is vocational.

    5) I think htey need real studies to connect the dots here. their argument is weak and misdirected without them.

    6) hey htey are jsut advocating a weaker version of what I advocate so thats ok. go totalitarianism!

    8) oh htey jsut mean higher taxes for rich? doesnt sound like a fairness argument. but it may well be a utilitarian one so I am happy.

    9)problem is if you have 0 GDP but high everything else you will fall under the power of others. IE other things are not sustainable without GDP and so forth. Of course we can arrange a very slow decline so we hardly notice.

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  7. This is quite interesting. I'm not sure about the providing fulfilling work part though.

    I certainly can agree that paid work should be "decent" in the ILO and have decent minimum standards attached to it. I also agree with the importance of recognition of the importance of carework and the need for work life balance

    And, yes certainly, much unpaid work is un/dervalued and that there is a stigma attached to unemployment.

    But I don't see then that this leads to the conclusion their should be full employment.

    Instead I think it suggests we should change how we think about work. Not only in the token sense of paying lip service to the importance of other forms of contribution but also in the meaningful sense of decoupling things like a right to a basic income from work.

    This would facilitate far greater freedom of choice for individuals to choose how they would contribute whether it be through employment, community work or carework. Thus individuals would be empowered to provide themselves with fulfilling work as well as to reclaim their time and build their communities.

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  8. Also I think philosophy in schools would be a great idea and would do much to raise the quality of democratic discourse in general.

    There is a lot written about the potential of the internet in futhering civic engagement and discourse but I think for it to be realised people need, in general to be trained to think more clearly. So much of what passes for debate on the internet is just ad hominem attacks or mutual reinforcement of ignorance and prejudice. Philosophy at least trains people to think about how they are thinking rather than just reacting and to communicate in a slightly more disciplined and structured way

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  9. Yeah, I think I'd agree with you there - see my more recent post on the Universal Basic Income.

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  10. Oh, yes, and the second comment too. There are few things more irritating than illogical online arguments!

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