A response to: Ronald Inglehart, Globalization and Post-Modern Values, The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2000, pp.215-228. (See here for the wider project).
Conclusions from the study:
1. Reported happiness rises with income up to about U.S.$10,000, at which point it gives no apparent further benefit. (appears to me from the graph that rapidly diminishing marginal returns to income set in from about $6,000).
2. Reported happiness correlates strongly with stable democratic institutions and open societies.
3. Post-materialist values correlate positively with rising income (and with having grown up in wealthy secure societies).
4. Average Life Expectancy rises with income up to about U.S. $10,000 (again, appears to me from the graph that rapidly diminishing marginal returns appear to set in from from about $6,000).
5. Unhappy ex-communist societies are a special case. My hypothesis would be that this result is because of the breakdown of social trust and cooperation through the years of communist rule, as well as the decline in income. If true, it is an marked warning about the consequences of policies that reduce social cohesion and increase fear and mistrust.
1. What do the surveys actually report? Happiness is highly subjective, and there are cultural differences that may skew the results.
2. Income data across nations very hard to compare meaningfully – Purchasing Power Parity, about the best method we have, but depends a great deal on the assumptions made, so different PPP calculations give differing rankings. Exchange rate fluctuations can change rankings rapidly too.
1. The surveys do exhibit a clear overall pattern over time and across a broad range of nations.
2. The low end of the global upper-middle income band is where material (economic) growth stops having strong unequivocal benefits.
1. This is roughly the band of income that seems to be sustainable as a world average, based on ecological footprint calculations. New technologies and better application of existing technologies may mean we could do better than that, on the other hand we have to figure in population growth and the extent we have gone into ecological overshoot already.
2. My intention is not to claim these nations as paragons of social or ecological policy and outcomes – most could do better on both scores, especially human development and social justice, but rather to define real-life “ballpark” examples of sustainable incomes.
1. In the green movement (particularly in high-income countries) we need to start visualising and promoting such a future – to be willing to say, “Well folks, this is what a sustainable future might look like, in concrete terms”.
2. There is no way, short of a miracle, to achieve global sustainability without either a cut in rich-nations income, or condemning billions to lives of the most dire poverty. It’s time for those of us in the rich world to stop saying: “Let them eat organic soya cake” as we hop on the next plane to the other side of the world for that ‘must have’ holiday.
3. But, see conclusions no.1 and 4.
In Part Two I intend to investigate and describe what a global “middle/upper middle income” lifestyle looks like.