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Archives 2002:
Vol. 1, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Hope for the Future
Six Part Series on Science and Religion
First Three Parts of the Series on Leadership
Archives 2003:
Vol. 2, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Series on Leadership continued
Avoiding Dictatorship in a Free Society

Art and Politics
Living the Good Life
Teaching Teens
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Archives 2004:
Vol. 3, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Seven Part Series on Global Consciousness
Is "Liberal" a Dirty Word?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All

Archives 2005:
Vol. 4, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Standing up for Humanity
Unity in Diversity

Thought and Imagination
Imagination and Healing
Lessons of Katrina
Intelligent Design or Evolution

Archives 2006:
Vol. 5, Numbers 1-12

Read past articles including:
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-Violent Political Change
Sustainable Development
Legalizing Torture
Living Without an Enemy
"Fast Food" is really "Slow Food"


Featured Articles about Responsibility, the Future and Consciousness:

Hope for the Future
Series on Leadership
Series on Global Consciousness
World Peace in Less Than a Month?
Can Idealism Solve Problems?
Conflict, Harmony and Integrity
Human Programming and Conflict
Non-violent Political Change
Living Without an Enemy
Protecting Children: Words and Deeds




April, 2008
7, Number 4

This Month's Article

The Imaginary Economy — Part II

• What are the bases for personal value and worth?

• How would sustainable living impact the economy?

• What models ought we use for future economic development?

I was angry when I saw the delivery truck loaded with aluminum cans filled with sodas. Returning home from a concert at the middle school, I thought of the music teacher who had to make do with a bunch of second-rate musical instruments begged and borrowed from all over the school district just so her kids could at least have the semblance of an orchestra. How sad that we live in a society where soda commands more resources than teaching music to children, I thought.

Our priorities are a statement of who we are. How we spend our resources reflects our values and our concept of worth. I therefore call our economy “imaginary” because it is based on choices that frequently have no real value and are often shaped by habits or glamorized images instead of by real needs. As a society we willingly spend to consume or entertain ourselves and unwillingly spend to meet important human needs. Salaries in America reflect these priorities.

Soda cans filled with sweetened water, some flavorings and assorted chemicals symbolize just how much energy, money and natural resources we are willing to spend for something of no real (and largely negative) value. So many people in American society consume with no consideration of the consequences of their consumption, and no reflection on how their resources could be better used. Our economy is so dependent on this type of thoughtless consumerism that there are serious risks to our economic stability if we change that way of life.

If the consciousness of American consumers changed just a little in terms of what we habitually buy and how we obtain it, our economy would suffer an immense impact. If people ceased buying sodas many jobs would be lost from the mining, manufacturing, distribution, advertising, retail, and waste disposal sectors of our economy.

Multiplying this impact throughout our consumer economy to the myriad other unnecessary and potentially harmful products we willingly spend our hard earned incomes on, and it is evident that America cannot afford the upheaval to live in a sustainable economy. We are happy to live in the imaginary economy of limitless goods, limitless resources and a limitless earth in which to dispose of the waste they produce. In the global economy, if American consumers changed their habits they would negatively impact the economies of the many nations who depend on American consumption for jobs and trade.

The roots of the imaginary economy and the vigorous consumption that drives it are the results of psychological factors and economic theories that equate material wealth and possessions with prosperity, security, popularity, and a meaningful life. It is the job of advertising to create the myth of happiness or life style that equates personal value with what one has. Indeed, advertising and its governmental counterpart, politics, must sell Americans a package that ties their perceived well-being and national identity to a “way of life” and the accessories that define it.

National economies have basically three models to choose from as they measure their growth, development and economic health:

Gross Domestic Product (GDP):

Traditionally, economists, policymakers, reporters, and the public rely on the GDP as a shorthand indicator of progress; but the GDP is merely a sum of national spending with no distinctions between transactions that add to well-being and those that diminish it.

"Among the economics profession there has been a strong sense for a long while that gross domestic product (GDP) is not a good measure. It doesn't measure changes in well-being, it doesn't measure comparisons of well-being across countries," [Thus, if political leaders] "are trying to maximize GDP and GDP is not a good measure, you are maximizing the wrong thing and it can be counterproductive."

—Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate economist

Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)

“We have been misguided in dismissing what people say about how happy they are and simply assuming that if they are consuming more … they are better off.” says Richard Easterlin, economics professor at the University of Southern California. There are efforts to devise a new economic index that would measure well-being gauged by things like satisfaction with personal relationships, employment, and meaning and purpose in life…. 

 “What about Gross National Happiness?”
by Nadia Mustafa, TIME magazine Jan 10, 2005

The GPI is an alternative to the gross domestic product (GDP). The GPI enables policymakers at the national, state, regional, or local level to measure how well their citizens are doing both economically and socially. If policymakers measure what really matters to people—health care, safety, a clean environment, and other indicators of well-being—economic policy would naturally shift towards sustainability. (Redefining

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

"I feel that there must be some convergence among nations on the idea of what the primary objective of development and progress should be - something Gross National Happiness seeks to bring about".

—H.M. Jigme Khesar Wangchuck
King of Bhutan

Economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment, and GNH instead focuses on the four pillars: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy. Bhutan’s King felt the responsibility to define development in terms of happiness of its people, rather than in terms of an abstract economic measurement such as GNP.

The result of participating in an imaginary economy is personal and national debt caused by spending beyond our means on items of imaginary worth from soda to war. The recent sub-prime mortgage debacle is a painful example of lenders and borrowers staking their financial resources and their futures on imaginary value.

Sustainable living is the opposite of the thrill of buying whatever one desires. On the contrary, it is a mentality of delicate balance where one thinks of the material and social consequences of what one uses. Sustainable living and consequently sustainable economy come from trying to consider taking and giving back equally. It is based on the natural rhythm of life that is sustained by systems that are interdependent and cyclical. Inhaling and exhaling, consuming needed nutrients and calories in order to maintain weight, energy and vitality are the biological counterparts of economic health. Overindulgence of the body results in ill health. The psychological counterpart of excessive appetite is selfishness that breeds dissatisfaction, fear and greed. These are the debt producers and the viruses that produce the symptoms of a sick economy.

Ultimately the forces of the imaginary economy may only change when people change from valuing what they have more than who they are. When health and quality of life for oneself and others replaces consumerism as the primary motive of work and spending, then the nations whose excessive habits are putting the survival of the planet at risk will willingly transform themselves to sustainable models of economic development.

The Imaginary Economy — Part I

© 2008 Richard V. Sidy

Read Related Articles

Living the Good Life

Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival

Sustainable Development is Nature's Way

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Archives 2005
Volumn 4
January: "Standing up for Humanity"
February: "The Wake of Disaster" – a poem
March: "Unity in Diversity
April: "Life is Calling"
May: "Entertainment" – a poem
June: "Thought and Imagination" part 1
July: "Thought and Imagination" part 2
August: "Imagination and Healing"
September: "Malice or Neglect? – Lessons of Katrina"
October: "Protecting Children"
November: "Intelligent Design or Evolution?"
December: "Building with one hand, destroying with the other"
Archives 2006
Volumn 5

January: "Conflict, Harmony, and Integrity"
February: "Satyagraha or Soul-force and Political Change"
March: "I Know I'm Not Alone - Wisdom of Michael Franti"
April: "Human Programming and Conflict Part I"
May: "Human Programming and Conflict Part II"
June: "Soccer Diplomacy"
July: "Sustainable Development is Nature's Way
August: "Parallel Universes"
September: "The News is not New"
October: "Legalizing Torture"
November: "Living Without an Enemy"
December: "Fast Food is really Slow Food"

Archives 2007
Volumn 6

January: "State of Fear"
February: Criminal Justice - "The Powerful Over the Weak"
March: "Culture Shock: The Good Life and Survival"
April: "March Madness"
May: "No Child Left Behind" Leaves Many Teachers Behind
June: "Personal Ecology"
July: Criminal Justice - "The Ethic of Custodianship"
August: "Exploring the Mind - part 1"
September: "Exploring the Mind - part 2: The Poetic Mind
October: "How Much Pain Can We Stand?"
November: "When Languages Disappear"
December: "Is it Enough to be Tolerant?"

Archives 2008
Volumn 7

January: "Beyond Ideology: Politics of the Future "
February: "Beyond the Bush Years"
March: "The Imaginary Economy - Part I
April: "The Imaginary Economy - Part II
May: Questions from Prison
June: "iGods and Connectivity"
July: "Energy Independence"
August: "Tribalism and the 2008 Elections
September: "Guilt, Shame and U.S. Justice"
October: "Have We Been Willing Slaves?"
November: "Are We Ready for the Future?"
December: "Are we done learning from pain?"

Archives 2009
Volumn 8

January: "Awakening"
February: "When Sacrifice is no Sacrifice"
March: "The Good New Days"
April: "The Power of Metaphor"
May: "The Conflict of Mythologies"
June: "The Time is Right"
July: "The New Anarchy"
August: "The Art of Living"
September: "Outrage"
October: "Are Women Becoming More Unhappy?

November: "Effect of the manufacturing culture on the American Psyche"
December: Who are the Real Game Changers?

Archives 2010
Volumn 9

January: The Music of Place
February: Earthquakes and Other Awakenings
March: Sense of Place, Sense of Self, Sense of Humanity
April: Why Do People Serve?
May: Decentralizing Food and Energy
June: Beyond Reading and Writing — Ecological literacy
July: Organization or Organism?
August: Fear and Cynicism = “Inter-fear-ance”
September: Are we afraid of our "Better Angels?"
October: Choosing Our Battles
November: Meeting the Need
December: A Living Canvas

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