In addition, the wealth of nations still needs to be defined today. Does lack of economic growth eat up Italy’s wealth as a nation? Materialists would respond to that question affirmatively. However, Italy’s wealth will never be much affected by the lack of economic growth. How would the GDP affect Dante’s legacy directly? In addition, Italy is still home to sixty percent of the world’s cultural heritage. The economic crisis that hit Europe a few years ago has not changed that. Italian will continue to be a beautiful language; and the value of human relations in the country or the place that Italian opera holds in music internationally would not be affected if Italians were to consume less, or if Italian businesses were to invest less. Hence the wealth of the nation that is Italy is not directly a factor of its economic activity. However, if the Italian government were to drastically reduce support for culture – as it already has, there would be repercussions on Italian culture in the long run. These repercussions would be attributed to austerity measures, for instance, and not to a lack of economic growth.
Usually, liberalism supports the view that a government should reduce its expenditure and its taxes – quite often, both factors are tightly linked – and that a government should seek exponential economic growth. But, since government expenditure is one of the four elements that together make up the GDP, reducing such expenditure, with the kind of austerity measures that have been imposed upon many European countries by Brussels and Berlin, may also lead to a drop in the GDP itself. In Greece, for instance, the sour-tasting medicines of austerity and liberalism led to a drop of 25 percent in the country’s GDP.
We would have a better visibility of an economy by changing that GDP-based approach. The Gini index, is an important indicator as to how a country is doing on the socio-economic front. But it is not enough. The poverty rate should find its way to the top of economic reports. And a comprehensive approach to life in a society must replace that materialistic and irrelevant scheme used by most banks, international institutions, and many in the press in order to analyze the economic situation in a country. This flawed scheme is, in itself, the result of the materialization of human life.
In this day and age, Man measures life by professional achievement, wealth, and possessions. And our leaders, basing their judgement as to the success of our societies on materialism, are contributing with incredible zeal to the materialization of our lives. Emanuel Macron, French minister of the economy, once declared that more young Frenchmen should aspire to becoming billionaires. This flawed view of life is a social disease of our times. From much to more, and from more to further is the concept based on which human life evolves today.
In reality, a virtuous human being should aspire to a balanced harmonious life during which he/she would contribute to the progress of our world. Raising a child to become a decent and generous adult, embarking on a quest for the meaning of life, helping others, and leading enriching lives matter more than becoming a billionaire. But Mr. Macron’s message to the French youths was based on his growth-oriented vision. As narrow as it is, this vision is shared by most world leaders. Today, an intellectual degrowth movement has been born. It does not aim at provoking a recession. It aims at taking the concept of economic growth out of our lives in order to preserve the environment, to relieve society from materialistic pressure, and to put Man at the center his society, currently occupied by the GDP figure.
Decades ago, Robert Kennedy articulated this vision in a speech in which he said: “But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product [a version of the GDP, with a slightly different calculation], now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and it counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife [Whitman and Speck were both murderers who committed their crimes in the 1960’s], and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
Here Robert Kennedy, who was a reader of ancient Greek poet Aeschylus, told the American people that the measure of the wealth of their nation had been wrong. His message is not only still relevant today; it is also relevant across all four corners of the globe. The problem with the victory of materialism is a cultural one. And the tragedy of our contemporary cultures is that they are influenced by the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg when they should be influenced by Aeschylus and Dante.
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