Unhappy, unhealthy lives aren’t a fair exchange for higher incomes

Social researcher Hugh Mackay said a number of years ago that “the Australia I love today – this sleep-deprived, overweight, overmedicated, anxious, smartphone-addicted society – is a very different place from the Australia I used to love”.

And one in four people admit they don’t enjoy life because of the way they are managing their finances. One in three are stressed by life in general. This is more apparent during the last 12 months.

Are economists to blame?

Economists object to being blamed for every ill that’s beset our country in the past 40 years. Where’s the proof that economic policy has caused a worsening in mental health. It’s true there’s little hard evidence that the A of “microeconomic reform” caused the B of more suicides, for instance.

But there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. Faster growth in the economy is aimed at raising our material standard of living. It doesn’t raise our happiness necessarily.

Does Economic Growth makes us happy?

Economists assume that economic growth will leave us all better off.

Our real incomes have grown considerably and economic reform can take a fair bit of the credit. It can take most of the credit for the remarkable truth that we’ve gone for 27 years without experiencing the great economic and social pain of recession and mass job loss. This has changed due to COVID.

But though most of us are earning and spending more than ever, there’s evidence we’re enjoying it less. Our higher material living standards have come at the cost of increasing social and health problems. Even more obvious now.

Economists generally take little interest in social and health problems. But though problems such as loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression and obesity were with us long before neoliberalism, they seem to have got worse since the mid-1980s.

If more “jobs and growth” and the higher incomes they bring are intended to make us happier, maybe governments would do better by us if they switched their objective from increasing happiness to reducing unhappiness.

Or maybe Australia should take a look across the Tasman at what New Zealand is doing. Parliament there now needs to look not only at economic growth but also social happiness.

So what do we do?

If you are unhappy about your finances talk to someone about it.

We help clients by listening.

Our job is to help alleviate the stress and worry around money. All you need to do is call or come in for coffee.


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