We live in a money economy. I know that sounds obvious, but it has profound implications for how we see the world. We measure everything in terms of money in this society. Even “time is money.” We decide if something is worth doing by how much money it can bring in. We judge the value of a thing by how much profit it can generate. We decide what to do or not do by how much money it will cost.
But we’re measuring the wrong things.
Arthur Dahl’s recent article, Global Systems Accounting Beyond Economics, has got me thinking. By itself, money actually has no value. It’s not something we can eat or put over our heads. Money is a symbol we have confused with wealth.
So… what if we started measuring the things that actually matter? What are the things that keep us alive and make life worth living? What if we thought of our wealth in terms of well-being?
You may have a different list, but here are few ideas for what constitutes well-being, just to get the conversation going:
Air – We all need clean air if we want to breathe.
Water – Clean water is essential for survival.
Food – We need healthy food for optimal health.
Clothing – We need adequate coverings to protect us from the elements.
Shelter – We all need a dwelling to live in that’s safe and sufficient.
Energy – We need energy for cooking, light, warmth, transportation and making the things we need.
Health – We get sick sometimes and we need good healthcare.
Knowledge – How are we increasing our knowledge and passing it on to the next generation?
Employment – We each need a way to put our talents to work and contribute to society.
Relationships – We are social creatures; we need family and friends.
Biodiversity – Without the vast network of plants and animals, the ecosystems that sustain us collapse and break down.
Green space – We all need access to nature in some form.
Carbon – Our carbon stores need to be balanced to keep the earth at a livable temperature – in the ground, not in the atmosphere.
Human Values – What are the qualities, values and ethics that create well-being?
What would you add to this list? From your perspective, what is essential for well-being?
Now, what if we had a way to measure these things? What if each city, each country had a scorecard that shows its wealth in terms that actually indicate well-being? How would you rank your city along the criteria listed above? Does everyone in your town live in a safe dwelling? What is the air quality in your city? Does your town have a pervading sense of generosity, cooperation and justice?
If recent movies are any indication, we recognize that we’ve pretty much made a mess of our world. The problems seem so huge that it doesn’t feel like there’s anything you or I can do about it. But what we can do is rethink our thinking. And that opens up all kinds of possibilities.
How would our world change if we measured the things that actually matter?
Photo by Benjamin Voros