October 28, 2008

Sad Bad Economy good for Reusing, Less Consumption, Craigslist culture. Also, Gross National Happiness.

I grew up poor—my two-job-working single momma and I ate rice and popcorn a lot, gardened, didn’t have a car most of the time, or TV (imagine!), didn’t have Christmas presents some years…but living in a first world country, in a first-rate town, my industrious ma discovered endless (free or nearly so) cultural amusements, hikes, sports, good times with sangha and friends to be had.

It was, in fact, a happy childhood rich in learning, reading, exploring and friendships.

In a culture that measures national health by economic growth—in fact, it’s how we define “progress”—an economic downturn can actually have as many good as clearly awful effects. Less sprawling development, less uninhibited debt, less heedless consumption—whether conspicuous or everyday Target/Wal-Mart casual. It forces us to redefine how we see ourselves, as did suddenly unemployed Americans in the days of selling apples on corners and listening to Roosevelt’s Fireside chats.

So, with a week before we vote in our next president, perhaps its an apt time to check out how we measure progress—and how other countries do so in a way that includes happiness, ecological responsibility, and cultural strength in the face of democratizing but too often lowbrow TV culture.

Here’s today’s Sunday NY Times’ article about the downturn giving rise to yard sales and the like, which has a particularly sad photo of a poor little girl riding a three wheeler for the last time.

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