Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The World Is Moving On

I may be pessimistic about the United States ever making the necessary changes required to deal with resource scarcity, economic disintegration and to create a decent quality of life for its citizens. But what gives me hope comes from outside the United States:

Bhutan leads the world to a new economy of happiness (Guardian) Next week Bhutan will host host a high level conference at the United Nations in New York with the hope of placing happiness, rather than growth, at the heart of the economy
We have seen the power of disruptive technologies and companies, but are we now witnessing the birth of disruptive countries?

The world's industrial powers, like major companies, are locked into the current destructive economic system and are unwilling to make more than incremental changes to address the enormous ecological and social challenges of our age.

But coming to their rescue is the tiny Himalyan kingdom of Bhutan, which has a population of just 700,000. Bhutan, the only country that measures its progress by the level of happiness among its citizens, will next week host a conference at the United Nations in New York, with a grand ambition in mind.

It is seeking to convince the world to radically change global politics and economics, placing the emphasis on happiness and wellbeing, rather than growth.

"It may not be appropriate for a little country like Bhutan to dare to offer advice to the world," says the government before doing just that. "Continuous economic growth and expansion in our finite world is not a must. In fact, this global economic slowdown presents a great opportunity to give nature a rest ... to reduce stress, to have more free time, to become more secure and self-reliant, and to improve the quality of our lives."
Bolivia has transformed itself by ignoring the Washington Consensus. (Guardian) By breaking with orthodox prescriptions for progress, Evo Morales has helped to forge a new Bolivia centred on 'living well'
In the past six years, Bolivia has become one of the Latin American countries most successful at improving its citizens' standard of living. Economic indicators such as low unemployment and decreased poverty, as well as better public healthcare and education, are outstanding.

Between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of those in moderate poverty went down from 60% to 49.6%, while extreme poverty fell from 38% to 25%. Likewise, the unemployment rate decreased from 8.4% to 4%. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) points out that Bolivia is the top country in Latin America in terms of transferring resources to its most vulnerable population – 2.5% of its GNP.

According to Alicia B├írcena, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, "Bolivia is one of the few countries that has reduced inequality … the gap between rich and poor has been hugely narrowed."

One of the key tools in reducing poverty has been the expansive distribution of economic surplus among the population, through direct cash transfers and bonds in programmes such as Juancito Pinto and Juana Azurduy, the Renta Dignidad, and salary increases. These payments have contributed to increasing the number of children attending school, broadening the coverage of public pensions to alleviate extreme poverty among senior citizens, and delivering subsidies to mothers excluded from social security, so as to reduce children's mortality and expand pre- and post-natal attention.

Bolivia has been declared an illiteracy-free country. Income redistribution has fuelled a 7% increase in the internal consumption of electricity, purified water and domestic gas among sectors that didn't have access to those services before.

During 2011, the country's economy grew at 5.3%, above the Latin American average. It is not an isolated event. The economy has been constantly expanding since 2007, averaging 4.5% a year.
Germany’s $263 Billion Renewables Shift Biggest Since War (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Not since the allies leveled Germany in World War II has Europe’s biggest economy undertaken a reconstruction of its energy market on this scale.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to build offshore wind farms that will cover an area six times the size of New York City and erect power lines that could stretch from London to Baghdad. The program will cost 200 billion euros ($263 billion), about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to the DIW economic institute in Berlin.

Germany aims to replace 17 nuclear reactors that supplied about a fifth of its electricity with renewables such as solar and wind. Merkel to succeed must experiment with untested systems and policies and overcome technical hurdles threatening the project, said Stephan Reimelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co. (GE)’s energy unit in the country.
Hopefully more counties will follow these leads rather than our own destructive one. Assuming we don't bomb them into the stone age, that is.

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