by Hunter Lovins
10 October 2014
A shift to the sharing economy, millennials shunning private car and home ownership, a saturation of consumerism – is a new economic narrative emerging?
Prosperity. Every segment of society seeks it, but ask what it means or how to get it and the answers are not always clear.
Do possessions equal prosperity? The mavens of Madison Avenue tell us: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” So we measure self-worth by what we buy, going deeper in debt to project the perception of plenitude.
A New Yorker cartoon portrays a woman in an elegant boutique asking whether they have something to, “Fill that dark empty space in my soul.” As Dana Meadows observed, we seek to meet non-material needs with things. It’ll never work. Worse, we’ve allowed the ad industry to induce the impression that in the absence of whatever they’re selling, we’re inadequate.
To play this game, you need money. The siren song is work harder, and you too, can join the moneyed class. It’s seductive: we all know someone who did win: the entrepreneur who struck it rich, hard-working immigrants who scrimped to put the kids through college, clawing their way to the middle class.
But Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century shows the system is rigged. Working harder won’t ensure prosperity. Without transformation of the financial system, the neoliberal ideology that has imposed austerity around the planet is punishing everyone who is not an owner of capital.