Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.
When I was thirteen years old I was homeless. My family lost our home in the housing market crash of 2008. It happened gradually after my father lost his job, and soon it became difficult to keep the lights, heat, and water on. Sometime in the subsequent months we received the foreclosure notice. Eventually, the ability to eat three meals a day became exceedingly difficult. In just three years I went from comfortable living in a middle class American household, to living in poverty. I made a promise to myself that when and if I made it to college, I would work toward a solution for our broken system. I now have four years of college under my belt, but it was not until this past year that I realized it was the government and economy that needed to change, which seems an impossible task to tackle. No family should be at risk of losing everything, and have to fight tooth and nail to earn even a fraction back.
Our current economy operates under the notion that the higher our gross domestic product (GDP), the better our country is functioning. GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country over the course of one year. GDP does not account for the health of the people in a given country, nor how many people have access to food, shelter or water. GDP does not account for how many people in that country have access to education, or if their personal rights are afforded adequate protection. We need to move away from our current neoclassical economy, in which the only indicator of progress is exponential economic growth, to an economy that can maintain a stable state, and that is equally inclusive of social, ecological, and economic progress. Growth is not necessarily indicative of progress, and sometimes having the ability to maintain stability is the most accurate barometer for happiness and security.
One of the ways to create a steady, fruitful economy is to foster a stable social structure. When you examine countries that have made social progress a top priority, they tend to have some of the most stable economies, as well as some of the happiest people in the world. Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland are just a few of the countries that have put their citizens’ well being first. Some of the things these countries are doing right are focusing on meeting basic human needs, creating foundations of well-being, and allowing for equal opportunity. This is what Michael Green coined the Social Progress Index. Meeting basic human needs, Green contests, accounts for nutrition and basic medical care, water sanitation, shelter, and personal safety. Meeting basic human needs in turn encourages a foundation of well being. This addresses access to basic knowledge, to information and communication, and ecosystem stability. The last level of the Social Progress Index is opportunity. It accounts for personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion, and access to advanced education. By maintaining a high degree of social progress a stable economy can be achieved.
By creating a basic standard of social progress, families like mine would be afforded more opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty. An economy of unchecked free enterprise and Capitalism, one in which unchallenged growth is a tenet, is a self-defeating dream. No matter how “American” these economic principles may seem, they only encourage selfish behavior and feed the largest systemic problem the world has ever faced, poverty. Having a system in place that helps citizens maintain their basic human needs, create a foundation of well being, and allow access to equal opportunity would have helped my family escape poverty or avoid it all together. My story is nothing new to this country, a place where around twenty-three percent of children live in poverty. We can certainly change that narrative; poverty in this world can be eradicated and families like mine could enjoy the peace of mind that when things start to fall apart there is a social program to catch them, creating more stability is not only beneficial to individual lives but moving toward a new stable economic system.