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Gross Social Happiness

by Maria Wolflingseder Thursday, Jan. 01, 2009 at 1:39 PM

Social capital has dangerously disappeared in the last years and decades. In the whole economy, there should be more cooperation and less competition, more sustainability and less monetary striving for gain. One cannot solve problems with the same thinking that caused the problems,


By Maria Wolflingseder

[This article published October 23, 2008 is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web,]

The new magic formula against poverty, unemployment and all other grievous dislocations is: “Invest in Social Capital. Enjoy immediate profit, the personal surplus value of voluntary activity. You, dear entrepreneur, create social and ecological surplus value.” Sociology has discovered “social capital” as a wonder cure.

People with an intact social network, many friends (and at least nine persons whom they can call in the night) and active charitably, with a high income and a secure job are optimistic and happier in all situations in life than others. This is analogously true for societies. Those regions in which persons live with high social capital are on a successful economic and political course. Social capital has dangerously disappeared in the last years and decades. Still through a stimulated “social capital research,” every citizen should be animated to re-appropriate this “quickly renewable resource.” Social capital is the trendy word for voluntary activity, “social competence” and “social engagement.” If these are lacking, the costs of the welfare system explode. Every individual and the communities should take responsibility – instead of delegating the problems to the “system” and worry about ecological and social concerns. This is urged by Agenda 21 and by groups that consume fair trade products and eco-electricity or propagate the coolness of public transportation. Obviously the macro-plane must be included. In the whole economy, there should be more cooperation and less competition, more sustainability and less conventional monetary striving for gain.

In his extolled work “New Values for the Economy. An Alternative to Communism and Capitalism,” the leading thinker in the cause of capital reification Christian Felber, co-founder of Attac Austria, celebrates how easily the economy can be turned to the better. With its sky-blue book cover, the book follows his earlier bestseller “50 Proposals for a Just World.” “While most of the proposals are positive, they all encounter a common obstacle: the profit-interest of powerful corporations.” Still this contradiction can be removed. The legislators (!) only need to give other goals to private businesses, rewarding them for their public interest instead of their profit making. Then the “hocus pocus” of the growth pressure in the economy would be unnecessary because one business would no longer have to realize a higher profit than the others or devour one another. The annihilation competition would be extinguished. Capital would change from an end to a good means.

Even the World Bank is calculating wealth no longer only in GDP but increasingly including social criteria. In remote Bhutan, the absolutist-Buddhist kingdom, new happy democratic times appear. The sociologist, cultural anthropologist and extraordinary university professor Andreas Obrecht explored the cultural, social and economic effects of the electrification of this backward country carried out with Austrian development cooperation. In his radio feature (2008), he reported how the remote village population – that hardly came in contact with money – first learned to rightly value their work. To pay for the furnished electricity, they have to objectify themselves from now on in paid labor. This circumstance is registered pointblank as a success by our researchers. Obrecht emphasizes how the “gross social happiness” begins to multiply. Like many others, he also speaks of spirituality in this connection. Sometimes it is of Buddhist origin but always involves solidarity with a greater whole arising through the new value community. Investment should be in social capital, which includes spirituality, and not in short-term pleasure.

Can all these positively applied terms from the capitalist economy be imagined “garnished with religion”? Don’t alarm bells ring for critics? Seeing the connection and effects of capitalist conditions and questioning its foundations is manifestly such a great taboo that no costs and efforts are spared in bending capitalism, stylizing it as colorful and flavoring it to be tasty so it can be presented as a humanized, ecological and tamed alternative. All this recalls the esoteric movement. It also positively remodels everything unbearable and grievous. For example, the oppression and discrimination of the woman should be annulled by means of spiritual eco-feminism by describing the feminine as outdated and the rescuer. All this very superficial criticism is obviously fruitless… “One cannot solve problems with the way of thinking that created the problems.” Without this helpful discovery formulated by Albert Einstein, nothing will change for the better.

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