Has the economy as we know it reached its use-by date?

How many of you have heard on the media "how hard" so many aspects of our lives are? Well, when you think about it, it's not really working for many people. A large proportion of the world is unable to meet basic needs. The slightest event these days triggers vast uncertainty.

I originally had this thought during the pandemic. I wondered if a virus could lead to:

  • mass unemployment,

  • industries disappearing at the drop of a hat,

  • not being able to freely breathe the air in our day-to-day lives before even considering any form of what makes us human, socialisation.

I wondered if the central idea structuring humanity over the past 50 years has led us down a path to mass vulnerability, an endless emphasis on consumption, working around the clock to reach our productivity potential, promoting stress and anxiety-like its ahh normal and forget what it actually means to be human.

Okay, I lied. The pandemic wasn't the first time I had wondered about this. Between the years 2012 - 2014, I had the pleasure and privilege to travel much of this world. I didn't anticipate visiting nearly 50 countries. My journey was something that evolved as I met more people as inspired to visit more places. There was something really intriguing about seeing the world this way. I began to see how to be human in other ways outside the upbringing I had in small-town Australia.

Like many of us in the western world, I was told, you go to school, then uni, start your career, climb the ladder, purchase everything and settle down. There was nothing really wrong about that at all. It seemed like a great plan at the time. But after working my butt off to finish a double degree, I intuitively knew I needed a break to become human. Then that is where my real education began.

It was an impulsive trip to Central America, to countries that I didn't even know existed, that changed my life. I was in another continent, language, socioeconomic level, and culture. I was a mix of naive and curious. I thought 1 week of Spanish school would prepare me to travel around the continent, all good. I was wrong. I sled down or hiked volcanoes because uno why not. I took random trips on local buses to unexpected places because I was bored one day. These are maybe things I wouldn't do now. But it gave me a sense of adventure that I never knew existed.

The other striking thing that happened to me on this trip was I saw how people lived very differently from how I was taught to live. While there was poverty, there was also community, colour, culture and celebration. There was a presence to the moment, smiles, integrity and being together. Nothing was perfect, it was simple, and it had flow. This was quite profound, as I had been told how to live life for 22 years a particular way, and I was suddenly witnessing the diversity that exists in being human.

I was obsessed. Learning about cultures, how people lived life and what was important to them. I was ready to be proven wrong in my own way.

Once I returned to Australia, it didn't take long for me to revert back to the plan. Get a job, tick, join the real world again, tick. But there was something profoundly unforgettable about my new version of the real world, not the one projected my way by others. My travelling experience was the real world.

I felt honoured to gain so much in being human from my travels. Honestly, I was torn (and still am) about the tension in what is life and what life can be. I have never felt okay settling. I know that makes people uncomfortable, but the people I am super drawn to are also similar in this. I know it exists. That is something you can't unlearn.

So after returning, I found a new home in the humanities, social science and philosophy and began to study for a Master's in International & Community Development. I couldn't shake the journey I had and felt so honoured to be able to witness a new way of living, and I felt this powerful drive to contribute back.

In that Masters's program, I learned that this ideology that is structuring our lives (in the Western world, but also infiltrating the least developed countries) with an emphasis on the economy was an idea proposed in the 1980s by a British Prime Minister and endorsed by the US president. This was actually portrayed on the show The Crown.

This term is called Neoliberalism.

I say this version of the current economy is starting to reach its expiry date because, well before Neoliberalism, there was another idea governing life, and before that, there was another. It goes on throughout history.

The changes are usually triggered by global events, like WWII, where the focus was on rebuilding human capital after the war.

I am not a fan of Neoliberalism solely orienting the priority of our lives anymore. It's becoming clear it is not working for most humans, with this extreme focus on the economy especially when times get tough for humans and their livelihoods.

In very lamens terms, Neoliberalism was premised on the assumption that there is no society, only individuals (WRONG). As an individual, you are responsible for how you engage in the market economy. This means you are responsible for how you achieve this such as your education to be employable. You are responsible for your aptitude. We all have the opportunity to participate in the market, but what it doesn't assume is the factors that are barriers to this engagement (yes, you are also solely responsible for overcoming that too). What happens if you come from a social disadvantage of some kind? Well, this idea assumes that its still your responsibility to figure out.

Suppose someone doesn't know or is aware of what they need to do to leverage the opportunities. How do they obtain that level of consciousness to be as active as someone who comes from favourable conditions such as being educated, having high socioeconomic status, having privilege, or not facing discrimination?

Neoliberalism has been a factor in seeing countries move out of poverty. South Korea is an excellent example of this, investing in their industries such as technology which has accelerated their economic growth. They had the political leadership to achieve this. You see, they had a leader that harnessed their integrity & power to make positive change for their people. And it worked.

Back to the individual level. But what is not so visible in society is if you don't have the ability/skills/knowledge/awareness, how do you get the human capital to change your prospects & leverage the opportunities in the market? I saw this first hand when I worked in a developing country. I was quickly able to problem solve in the projects I was a part of, sourcing mechanisms to innovate. On the other hand, the local staff didn't even know about the resources I was accessing, and if they don't know, how will they learn in their own regard?

Do you see how the focus is primarily on your productivity (money)?

As humans, we are way more than money. Human capital is multidimensional.

Currently, I believe Neoliberalism is on the change because we have just endured a worldwide pandemic, and the consequences are still evident. While we hoped for the idea of "going back to normal", I have been an advocate for "creating a new normal". The current economic system wasn't made for today's challenges. As a person, we are bearing the costs of that. That is why I wanted to share this with you, as I believe we can think of a better ideology that merges economic growth with human growth and sustainability.

There are cracks forming, and I believe we can all see them emerging. But it's also challenging, for some of us getting by day to day. It is also tough out there, which keeps being normalised and reinforced by media personnel. Distracting us from innovating, find a new way to live.

I am not asking you to change the world. All I am asking you to consider is the world you wish to create now and for future generations. Yes you can imagine that. How do you actually want to live?

A fundamental flaw in Neoliberalism is the idea that there is no society. Conversely, a better quality of life pertains to the concept of belonging and connection. Research has proven that time after time. Society is fundamental to that. That is often why countries with collective cultures are often not as economically strong but the people are happier, as they have solid connections and roles in their communities. They live for more than themselves.

Why are we reinforcing the idea that we are individuals when it makes it harder to live a good life?

The market is demand and supply. If we can ignite our active citizenship, then if there is enough demand for the integrity of our society. This can lead to greater economic harmony as we choose to better the lives of more than perpetuate a dog-eat-dog world that somewhat exists.

Also, if we raise the majority, then this will strengthen the social and economic foundations. Money is finite, but the quality of life and vitality is much more.

Why are some countries working their staff to death? Why do we rush around from place to place and forget to enjoy the moment?

I believe we are at a junction to choose better. To choose humanity. Be the leader in our communities to advocate for structural change. To have a system that doesn't falter at every global event. That allows us to explore our passions and purposes. To enjoy harmony, balance and leisure. To relish in our connections to one another. Most importantly, to be the human we wish to be.

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