The quest for a better life continues to preoccupy humankind. We strive every day to improve the way we do our business, the way we get by and the quality of life we live. This is a continuous struggle humankind cannot afford to surrender, but one that should indeed as well yield tangible results — that of improving life and ultimately bringing satisfaction.
Develop me: Tapiwa Gomo
History shows that the quest for improved lifestyle has not been wholly futile, but the benefits of some successful projects have been hi-jacked and centralised and monopolised by the greedy.
The eras of enlightenment and industrialisation gave humankind an opportunity to use technology, to unleash creative freedom, to increase production and to improve and simplify life.
However, the growing relationship between money and power led to the hunger for increasing profits, which has occupied centre stage manifesting into what has now become the ideology of economic growth.
With the election season nearing, we will hear a lot about economic growth and less about human development and satisfaction. We will be told that economic growth is what is required to cross the poverty river.
Globally, the economic growth ideology is now the one-size-fits-all solution to all problems. We have been made to believe that a nation is only improving when the gross domestic product (GDP) is at a healthy rate.
The GDP metrics is measured by the value of goods and services produced each year. But that too hides the centralisation of profits by few global individuals or corporations whose operational hyponym is “markets”.
In short, economic growth has continued to enslave and impoverish humankind through the centralisation of power and global capital; and is endangering the environment in its quest to maximise profits.
More than a century of economic growth, one would imagine that most people in developed nations would be better off. But it is not like that.
In the United Kingdom, 66% per capita growth in 30 years between 1973 and 2003, has not transformed the lives of the majority.
Similarly, in Japan, between 1958 and 1986, its per capita growth experienced a fivefold per capita income rise, again with limited or no satisfaction.
Over the past 100 years, the global economy grew 25 times bigger, and yet by the year 2000, one in seven people in the world live on less than a dollar a day and one in three live below two dollars a day.
Those at the lower end of the economic ladder continue to bear the brunt of this rising global avarice.
We all work to produce and satisfy and meet our daily needs and wants. In doing so, we equally contribute towards what is supposed to be an ecological economy which is supposed to improve our wellbeing.
This would be the basis for equality — where labour for have-nots is fairly rewarded, and the prices of goods and services are also fairly pegged. Surplus from this ecology is supposed to be reinvested into the technologically-driven economy to enrich both the economy and the lifestyles of its people.
But in the case of the current structure of the global economic growth ideology, profits have continued to grow exponentially, but are centralised in the hands of a few, whose hunger for more is insatiable, while the rest remain in poverty.
Because those who own the means to the ideology of economic growth have become the central actors to everything related to well-being of the global society, the ideology itself has perpetuated the current global inequalities by exploiting the have-nots. Ordinary people are sacrificed and continue to work harder for fewer rewards.
A 25-fold increase in global economy could have led to a reduction in working hours in some of the developed countries but this isn’t happening because the gains in production are captured by those few, who own the means to economic growth.
When there is economic collapse, it is still those at the bottom end of the ladder, who suffer first due to rise in unemployment, limited access to services and good and liquidity challenges.
The ultimate goal of the global society must not be to tie people’s lives on an economic model that is owned by a few but to enable better lives.
Even with the global productivity increasing rapidly into the 21st century, the growth model has established ways of manipulating some of the ecological factors of the economy just to ensure they reap more profits than meet the needs and wants of the ordinary people.
Where production is high, they have devised ways to increase demand along with supply and consumption.
The turn of the millennium witnessed an unchallenged increase in planned obsolescence, that is, intentionally reducing the lifespan of products to force faster replacement of goods.
The phones, the cars, the clothes and household materials we use today now last not longer than those purchased by our parents.
The more we spend in shops replacing worn out products, the more we need to work to earn the money to afford a replacement.
The more we buy and work, the more profits and the wider the inequality between them and us and the more damage is caused to the environment in search of more production raw materials.
The more we spend on consumption, the less we save for investment. Forever, we will remain poor.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa