The Economics of Happiness is a documentary film by Helena-Norberg Hodge, Steven Gorelick, and John Page that critiques globalization and the continued development of a global culture. The film makes the case that globalization has led to an expansion of power and influence of big business and has, ultimately, decreased world welfare. It then goes on to propose that the solution to the challenges associated with globalization can be solved with a return to more localized economies, regulation of large corporations, and strategic policy changes that allow local businesses to prosper.
The film starts with Helena-Norberg Hodge in Ladakh, or "little Tibet,"a small region in northern India where she has been conducting research for decades. Hodge asserts that prior to introduction to western culture in the 1970's, Ladakh was a near-ideal society. Apparently, Ladakh had a fully localized economy where there was no unemployment, everyone was healthy, provided for, and undeniably happy. However, upon the imposition of western culture in the region, Hodge began to notice trends that led to an extreme loss of well-being. The Ladakh case therefore leads into the dramatic criticism of globalization and the description of eight over-simplified "inconvenient truths:"
1. makes us unhappy
2. breeds insecurity
3. wastes natural resources
4. accelerates climate change
5. destroys livelihoods
6. increases conflicts
7. is built on handouts to big business
8. in built on false accounting
To legitimize the anti-globalization argument, the filmmakers interview a variety of talking heads from around the globe who see the negative impacts of globalization everyday. This is really where my first problem with the film is established. Upon researching the backgrounds of the filmmakers and interviewees, it came to my attention that none of them have a serious academic background in economics. Given the fact that the film is called The Economics of Happiness one would think that they might actually interview a legitimate economist. Indeed, even Hodge, who is presented as an "economic analyst" in the beginning of the film, has her academic background in linguistics. Moreover, many of the films anecdotal arguments would more appropriately be characterized as anthropological/sociological. The filmmakers rarely touch on any actual economics, and even when they do it is over-simplified and used only when convenient.
The next major problem I had with the film is how they present globalization as being defended by inaccurate measures of prosperity, and they even go so far as to attack GDP as a backwards method for measuring well-being that only takes into account monetary welfare. Their proposed solution is a more comprehensive index for well-being that factors in physical, mental, and emotional well-being in addition to monetary wealth. Other than that description of the basic components, however, they give no indication of how such an index could accurately be calculated on a macro-scale. In fact, there is a regrettable lack of real numbers and data throughout the entire film, and most of the arguments are conclusory and provide the viewer with little or no evidence with which to form their own opinions.
In conclusion, I feel that The Economics of Happiness will leave many people yearning for more information about the real facts of the situation. I strongly believe that this film touches on some extremely pertinent issues for out time, but it is presented in such a one-sided fashion that it leaves far too much room for cynics (such as myself) to find illegitimacy in their arguments. By playing to the ignorance of many concerning economic issues (ignorance not to be confused with stupidity here) the film leaves the reasonable viewer with a taste that is a little more political and a little less altruistic.
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