With a Global Economy, You Can’t Always Get What You Want (in this case, happiness and environmental protection)

In class we mentioned the negative effects that globalization or even “Americanization” can have on the non-Western world. We didn’t cover in detail, however, how this globalization can hurt everyone involved (including Westerners). In the documentary entitled “The Economics of Happiness,” the creators describe the negative effects that can come with globalization and mass consumerism. Some of these devastating consequences include the destruction of the environment and a lessening of individual morale. According to the documentary creators:

“Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There are personal costs too. For the majority of people on the planet life is becoming increasingly stressful. We have less time for friends and family and we face mounting pressures at work. The film shows how globalization breeds cultural self-rejection, competition and divisiveness; how it structurally promotes the growth of slums and urban sprawl; how it is decimating democracy.”

The documentary interviews individuals from all around the world to hear what each person has to say about the current push for a global economy. Many of the people interviewed call for a localization of knowledge. By localizing knowledge, foreign interests will have less of an influence on local individuals. Communities can thus focus more on their immediate surroundings rather than far away places. Individuals can foster bonds with their neighbors rather than aspire to be like strangers in worlds that are very different from their own. The film does not call for isolation from other countries but rather pushes for interdependence among individuals in local communities. The film describes the village of Ladakh in the Himalayas that changed its ways to adapt to the Western model. This resulted in devastating effects for the village that transformed from a compassionate one to a fragmented one. The global economy, which promotes and glorifies individualism and competition, changed their collaborative way of life.

The film also stresses the need to buy locally produced goods so that citizens can localize their own economy. The documentary discusses the problems of shipping tuna from the United States to Japan to be processed and then shipping it back to be sold in the United States. This process, while it shows that two former enemy countries can work together and create profits for each other, might show globalization in a more positive light. The downside of such a process, however, is the “obscene waste that results from trade for the sake of trade: apples sent from the UK to South Africa to be washed and waxed, then shipped back to British supermarkets.”

This film reinforces the idea that things are rarely solely positive or solely negative. Something as complex as globalization needs to be analyzed from a variety of angles to better understand how it affects those who are rarely seen in the mainstream media. Despite the positive things that globalization can do (and has already done), I would say that in a world where capitalism seems to dominate, it is rare to find things that benefit some people without disadvantaging others. Ultimately, it could become even worse as our actions today might hurt everyone tomorrow.


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