International (learning from other cultures)

In working out what a steady state society and a steady state economy might mean there is scope from learning from other cultures.  Cultures in the majority world typically have different understandings of well-being, for example.  So far we are aware of the following.

This short article by Ashish Kothari, Federico Demaria and Alberto Acosta gives a short overview of the potential contributions from the philosophies of, and movements for, buen vivir (Latin America, or Abya Yala), ecological swaraj (India) and ubuntu (Southern Africa), in relation the the largely European degrowth concept and movement.  Buen Vivir, Degrowth and Ecological Swaraj: Alternatives to sustainable development and the Green Economy. It’s free to read / download.

1)  Vivir Bien / Buen Vivir / Sumak Kawsay / Suma Qamaña.  This is an orientation that has emerged from, and in dialogue with, the indigenous traditions of America, especially the Aymara of Bolivia and the Quechua/Kichwa of Ecuador and Perú.  It is hard to summarise, but here are some links.

Report from the Heinrich Boll Foundation – a good accessible overview.
Guardian interview with Eduardo Gudynas, Uruguyan social ecologist.
Our own compilation on buen vivir concepts from original sources, many of them translated from the Spanish.  Also see this recent discussion on the Alternautas site.

Here is a video about Vivir Bien in Bolivia (a little idealised, but useful), which explains the concept with emphasis on  forest conversation and the limitations of the UN REDD framework.

And here is a webpage from the German degrowth website on Buen Vivir, with video featuring Alberto Acosta.  English text: the video is in German with English subtitles. The page is part of an excellent series on the many movements that make up, or share perspectives with the degrowth movement.

2) A beautiful video on the Vanuatu perspective on well-being.  This makes the important point that culture, access to the natural world reduce the need for reliance on the cash exchange economy.  It may seem distant to our reality, but far higher levels of subsistence were practiced here at a family level (chickens and veg in back gardens, jam making, etc), while in 1949, 80% of Manchester’s food was produced within a 50 mile radius – now it is 0.25%.  The Vanuatu perspective draws on the Melanesian Socialism of Father Walter Lini.

3) Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.  This builds on the Buddhist traditions of Bhutan, offering an alternative measure of the well-being of the country than the all too familiar GDP.  See for an overview. Here is a video about it.  Note that there are criticisms of Bhutan and its motives for developing the concept, see the wikipedia article on the country.

4) And see our own Practical Solidarity report:  Living Well. This has a variety of case studies.

5) The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and Education Trust, has produced the following teaching aid about wangari maathai and the green belt movement (see also in Living Well p4-5 report) 

6) This piece from Vandana Shiva, another de-colonial thinker, she gives a really succinct summary of the issues, particularly in relation to the conversion of nature and the commons into money, counted under ‘economic growth’ measures like GDP.

7) Inspirational change can emerge when the chips are down, for example see the case study, Food sovereignty in Cuba on p6 in our report, Living Well and Palestinian farmers hungry for change

8) Universal healthcare: the affordable dream.
Why don’t all countries have something like the British National Health Service which provides universal health care free at the point of delivery (despite its current erosion by government neoliberal policy of privatisation)?
It seems like the answer isn’t a lack of money – at least given the experience of Cuba and Kerala, India and also these more recent examples of Thailand, Rwanda, Bangladesh and elsewhere show, as reviewed in this Guardian article.
Indeed, as Mehrota and Delaminoica showed some years ago, investing in the basic health of the population has benefits for the economy more generally, although they do use the GDP as a measure of this as noted in this review by SSM’s Mark Burton (Journal of Health Management, 11, 2 (2009): 431–435).

Does Sen’s article in the Guardian ignore the importance of wider public health measures?  For example, Kerala’s impressive health statistics (comparable with the USA while incomes are massively lower) may have more to do with land reform, education, position of women and small family size than clinical services; this is not explored.  Universal health care needs to address the wider determinants of health as well as preventive and clinical services.





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