Thursday, April 17, 2008

Money can't buy happiness?

Sometimes following tangents finds you interesting things. Danny's "White Fathers" blog post yesterday on what really would help folk in Africa, whether the WMF's mission of knowledge sharing was the most needful thing started the wheels turning for me.

Those wheels got a push from this thread on Wikipedia Review, and from Danny's "Congo" response to it here. I think maybe sometimes we lose track, in our situations, of how things really are and aren't, and what we can do about them. What I'm about to say should in no way be taken as diminishing how tough things are in places like the sub Sahara, the Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the like. They're tough, make no mistake, way tougher than in the rich world...

So when I hear people saying "Money can't buy happiness?" I want to call BS. First, take a look at this classic essay by John Scalzi, "Being Poor" It's a rich world essay to be sure, but it drives home the point... being poor really really sucks.

Then take a look at this New York Times article... Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All ... Granted, its a study of the rich world, and of the well off people within it, but (quoting)

The fact remains that economic growth doesn’t just make countries richer in superficially materialistic ways.

Economic growth can also pay for investments in scientific research that lead to longer, healthier lives. It can allow trips to see relatives not seen in years or places never visited. When you’re richer, you can decide to work less — and spend more time with your friends.

That's rich world stuff... but the same thing is true in the less rich world. As Ben Yates cited in a "White Fathers" reply, cellphones can make a difference, and that says to me that aid isn't the solution. Changing society is the solution. Economic growth is the solution. Knowledge is the solution. Danny's right when he says an encyclopedia per se isn't the answer, that more thought is required, it has to deliver the things that are needed. But those who decry encyclopedias and economic and societal change in favour of direct aid? They miss the mark.

Money can't buy happiness? Tell it the the lady in Alabama with the 800 dollar car. Tell it to the mother in Gambia without the money to buy a sack of maize.

Money CAN buy happiness.... but the best kind of money is money you control because you earned it, because your society enabled it, not money that dropped in your lap.

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