Free markets & societies need people who can think freely and clearly Imagine if a foreign power or terrorist group executed a long-term plan to get large numbers of Americans addicted to powerful drugs without knowing their dangers, killing over 50,000 of them a year and making millions unable to function at their best.Imagine they also poisoned our water supply, but did it through government officials, like the governor of Michigan, letting the water become toxic in a way that seems more like incompetence than malice.If that entity had allies inside the government who systematically turned neighborhoods and small towns into places where it's easy to get guns and drugs and cable TV, but hard to get a good education or fresh vegetables in stores or school lunches. You'd breed a generation of children with some level of PTSD and malnutrition.Those kids would struggle to make decisions about life, work, money, or who to vote for. They would grow up obese and tired from a sugary, nutrition-less diet. Most would be too unhealthy to serve in the military.America would become weak. Angry at itself, tired, unable to think straight, and feeling helpless to do better. It would elect officials who prey on that anger and frustration. Am I overstating this doomsday scenario? I don't think so. If a terrorist did to us what we do to ourselves, it would be an act of war.Even those of us in more pleasant bubbles within this economy are feeling the effects. The opioid epidemic hits millionaires, too. So does malnutrition. These problems combine to pose a serious threat to our democracy.Threat to democracy? I know that sounds like hyperbole, but think about it. A free market and free society can only be made up of free people. If our brains are not able to work properly, are we free to think logically? Are we free to think nobly? Are we free to think compassionately or creatively? Or are we ripe for manipulation? Are we more likely as a nation to do stupid things?If you're not sure this is a pervasive problem, ask yourself if you know or at least know of someone who is all or most of these:Afraid they can't pay their bills and constantly stressed about moneyTaking Oxycontin or another drug for painDrinking possibly unsafe tap (or bottled) waterEating too much sugar and processed foods and pushing their bodies towards obesity and type 2 diabetesIn an abusive, violent relationship or recently escaped from oneThat's not outlandish. That's pretty normal. We don't need a foreign power or terrorist organization to do this to us. We're terrorizing ourselves.My hope in studying the idea of a happiness economy is that we can change our profit motive from being focused on money to being focused on creating happiness. And in doing so, we can create systems that work together to solve these problems. And generate money along the way, too. Noah Smith is one of my favorite economists, in part because he is [...]
We need a different theory of why poverty exists. We make it exist, because in our current system, it's profitable to some and tolerable to most.
Even if you have contempt for the poor and think they aren't worth investing in, you have to accept that in a consumer-driven economy you need consumers.
Protect chimpanzees, help poor farmers, fight climate change, or all of the above? Smart policy to fix one thing can end up fixing another, and another.