As I introduced in my last post, I am enrolled in an online course (MOOC), “The Age of Sustainable Development” with Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University. This week’s topic is the measurement of economic development. When we speak of economic development, it’s not enough to just measure wealth or even the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of an area, nation or community. Ultimately, what we’re looking for in development is an overall quality of life. A country can have a large production of goods and services and produce a high amount of economic gain, but if it doesn’t translate into a better life for the people who live there, it’s not really development or progress.
A truer picture of economic development, then, needs to account for a complexity of variables like 1) the population and the GDP per capita; 2) the relative distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor; 3) the value of the currency in which we’re measuring and the purchasing power of that amount; 4) the available services in a place (such as electricity, water, sewage, education, internet, transportation, etc.) and 5) conditions in the region like climate, political unrest, natural disasters, etc. And then … there’s the happiness factor or people’s self-perception of their quality of life or their life satisfaction.
Dr. Sachs shared that human and cultural values also affect our happiness or contentment with life. Those who have a high value on the accumulation of wealth or money, for instance, tend to be less happy. Those who place a value on altruism or, as we would say in the church, compassion and service, tend to have a higher level of life satisfaction.
So where does the US measure up globally on the happiness chart? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publishes a list of 34 nations each year and ranks them in order of happiness. In 2014, the United States was 17th out of 34 and lost ground over the past year … most likely due to the concentration of wealth in the wealthiest of individuals. This is according to an article in USA Today. The happiest nation? Denmark. The top five nations have a more equal wealth distribution, a longer life expectancy, access to health care and education, a social welfare system which takes care of basic needs, and a culture which values a shorter work week and more vacation.
I preached the lectionary this week at United Presbyterian Church in Yardville. This week’s Old Testament reading was the story of God’s gift of Manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. Even after hearing the grumbling of the Hebrew people in the wilderness, God answers with the gifts of quail and a crusty cake-like substance for nourishment. Not an accumulation of wealth, but a daily provision. The New Testament reading was the parable of the workers in the vineyard. When Jesus tells the parable, he equates the kingdom of heaven to each person having their basic daily needs given to them … not because of the number of hours they worked, but because of the generosity of the vineyard owner. I find the Word at the intersection of the scripture and life this week. The two stories tell both the nature of God and the promise of the Kingdom. And so this is both the good news and the call of the Church … to remember the generosity of the creator, and to witness and practice the way of the Kingdom by being generous. Should we add the “Kingdom Coefficient” to the GDP, HDI and Gini coefficient?
Of course, there is a social action component to this as well … and that, too, is the call of the Church. What will we do to help boost economic development, not merely make more money, but enable a world economy which keeps a healthy and faithful income distribution that will give everyone their “daily bread?” that will not only create a high GDP, but will create more “happiness” (read Shalom or wholeness or wellbeing) among all people … that is the Hope of Christ.
- Week 1: What is Sustainable Development?
- Week 2: Economic development – How we measure it, how it varies around the world
- Week 3: A Short History of Economic Development
- Week 4: Why Did Some Countries Advance While Others Remained in Poverty?
- Week 5: The MDGs and the End of Extreme Poverty
- Week 6: Growth within Planetary Boundaries
- Week 7: Human Rights and Gender Equality
- Week 8: Education
- Week 9: Universal Health Coverage
- Week 10: Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger
- Week 11: Sustainable Cities
- Week 12: Curbing Climate Change
- Week 13: Saving Biodiversity
- Week 14: The SDGs