Written by: Sandra Ericson
There seems to be an intellectual allergy to developing policy for the practical knowledge needs of human life.
Policy sets out goals, missions, objectives, and visions, but policy does not make a life decision for you and me on a Tuesday morning. Personal policy does that, assuming there is one. This difference in scale is why any policymaking process to develop Wellbeing Economy policies should include what it takes to form personal policy amongst citizens. Life today is more urban and risky. Urban life has often prevented people from fulfilling their health and housing needs with its remote extended supply chains and red tape. Given the degree of social failure in cities, neither income nor trust in urban living ensures personal health and safety. For many, the old bandit challenge is an everyday decision, “your money or your life?” See the recent 2022 report from the Edelman Trust Barometer for a shocker about trust.
Government can’t deliver on its own. From past practice, the assumption is that government committees or economists can address the needs of regular people by enlisting local leaders or maybe they survey local groups. These exogenous efforts are limited by default and cause policymakers to ignore the other most effective means of assuring prosperity — universal education. Imagine the degree of health and wellbeing if governments proactively educated their people in personal care and caution. It could prevent social failure (like drug abuse), economic losses (like recessions and depressions), unforeseen natural events (like pandemics), and coming soon to your block, the effects of climate change. If governments enlisted a population of informed and highly-motivated equal partners, skilled in preventing local loss at its core, the gains could assure greater national wellbeing for generations.
When policymakers consider the educational arsenal, the capitalistic mindset interprets ‘education’ to mean income-producing professional education, believing that income will deliver wellbeing. It no longer does. Given the number of current proposals for direct payment, it is clear that some policy wonks believe working, and now even survival itself requires compensation. The hope is that each recipient will gain dignity from spending money (wisely or otherwise) rather than earning money — is that possible? Does money make everything alright? Mark Twain had it right when Pudd’nhead Wilson said, “faith is believing when you know it ain’t so.”
The Past is Prologue.
With a centuries-long history spanning continents and cultures, a better way, called Bildung in Europe and Consumer Science, Life Skills, or Human Ecology in the US, is waiting. It was an avenue abandoned because the ‘invisible hand’ could not assign it financial utility in trendy short-term markets. So, most economists have not supported such wellbeing education, letting governments pay later — well, it is later, and they are paying. Local governments, burdened with rising social and financial problems, micro and macro, face debt and insolvency.
Note that three of the four Edelman trust recommendations point to an educational approach:
- Demonstrate tangible progress by showing how the system works.
- Focus on long-term thinking via solutions.
- Provide credible information, meaning trustworthy, consistent, and fact-based information.
And, by the way, full trust is generated if the information is neutral and local. Enter school districts. For national prosperity, wellbeing education policy must be front and center in creating new public/private partnerships. It is how societies combatted poverty before in Europe and the US; now, it is how meta-modernity can be made livable.
This Social Century Requires Social Skills.
At the center of this new policymaking must be life skills, the human life abilities needed every day. It means teaching old favorites like cooking and sewing, how to choose then choosing medical insurance, the cause and effect of climate change, leasing contracts, why children are not mini-adults, depression, label law, sanitation, fiduciaries, and aging bodies. Age-related work through the complete subject list takes 15 years, three hours per week, K-14. The result will be a universal understanding of human needs within 21st C. social and economic systems. Future leaders will have grown up with a realistic definition of economics. Without this empowering education, democracy itself stands a poor chance.
Why does this education work to benefit the whole of governance? Because with every life, human or not, the first and most-demanding need is to serve the body — its needs garner the highest self-interest. Reduction of pain, cooling/heating, hunger, sleep, light, and physical safety rule the self; unmet needs drive the mental fallout from material deprivation, fear, anger, depression, cognitive load, lower bandwidth, and social rebellion. The prolonged lack of physical safety and comfort has caused most revolutions at the population tipping point. Malcolm Gladstone surmises that the tipping point is 13.5%.
You may be thinking, how can an organization, even ‘new’ economists, believe that a single education policy could apply to the cultural contexts of over 150 countries? Answer: start and end with structural human common denominators; they are species constant. They include food, clothing, shelter, safety, finance, aging, child development, climate adaptation, communication, transportation, social interaction, cultural protocol, personal presentation, and professionalism. Along with professional and civic education, courses in these physical and psychosocial subjects are applicable worldwide. Educators in every country can customize lessons to fit resources and social constructs. This kind of personal education generates human globalism before commercial globalism.
Policy designers implementing Wellbeing Economy policies should consider an educational approach for teaching human wellbeing. It is the one area that focuses on an indisputable fact of life: All human beings want to survive and be successful within their culture. Help them do that; teach Human Ecology; make it possible for people to learn about themselves and their own lives.
*About the author: Sandra Ericson is the former chair of the Consumer Arts and Science Department at City College of San Francisco. She served three elected terms on the Napa Valley College Board, one appointed term on the St. Helena Planning Commission, and eight years as chair of the St. Helena Climate Protection Task Force. She currently lives in Eugene, Oregon.
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