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.
In the United States, there is a propensity for individuals to accumulate as much wealth and prestige as possible. The United States is imagined as the land of opportunity, where anything is possible with hard work. Unfortunately, many can admit that this idea is not reality. This mindset has sculpted our economy into the capitalistic system it is today, where the rich get richer, the less privileged struggle, and earth’s finite resources are exhausted faster than they can be replenished. The United States falls short to other developed nations because of the central focus on a strong economy and acquisition of wealth. The United States government also contributes to the subpar quality of life because of political gridlock and senseless budgetary management. With more focus on investing internally, the United States can be the nation to design and implement a successful and sustainable economy.
Gross domestic product, or GDP, is a measurement of the value of all goods and services a nation produces. People mistakenly associate the success of a nation with its GDP, where the most successful countries have a high GDP and the least successful countries have a low GDP. Studies show that GDP is not necessarily correlated with nations’ overall quality of life and satisfaction. The United States is at the pinnacle of the global GDP, yet falls short when compared to other countries’ overall quality of life. Several foreign countries surpass the US in the overall quality of life measurement, but we are one of the wealthiest countries on earth. There is more to the picture than solely economic gain.
Countries can achieve national wellbeing by adopting the United Nations’ Global Goals. These seventeen multifaceted goals serve as a comprehensive set of socially and ecologically sustainable guidelines that will improve the quality of earth and the lives of people. Some of these goals are to diminish poverty and hunger and to promote affordable and clean energy, gender equality, climate action and quality education (United Nations, 2015). Only a few of these goals are economically related. The goals do not call for the accumulation of wealth, exponential economic growth or the acquisition of an abundance of material commodities. Instead, these objectives focus on steps that promote fairness among people and the preservation of nature and its resources. This set of goals demonstrates that money is only a piece to the puzzle of the world’s function.
The countries that typically have the highest overall quality of life are Scandinavian nations such as Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Other high-ranking nations include Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (Smith, 2016). These countries are all industrialized, meaning a strong economy is a crucial factor. However, these nations that consistently have a high quality of life ranking take a more holistic approach when it comes to priorities. Many of these nations focus on providing basic needs for all citizens including personal freedom, sanitation, medical care, and access to clean water (Smith, 2016).
The United States should consider adopting some of the approaches of other nations where the quality of life is enriched. Many issues in the United States stem from the perceived inefficiency of our government and how Washington operates. There is animosity between political parties to the point where progress is halted and the wellbeing of US citizens is compromised because of this deadlock. The US government should be working as a single, cooperative unit to provide for the people. Instead, politicians of opposing ideologies go to battle on Capitol Hill, inhibiting any progress that could help the economy and the health and education of the nation’s citizens.
The United States has several flaws that end up hurting the nation’s people in the long run. The United States receives a certain amount of money through various types of taxes. Once the tax revenue is received, a budget must be compiled to lay out the framework for how much money should be allocated to what. There is a strong correlation between how tax money is allocated and a nation’s quality of life. When compared to countries with a superior quality of life, it is apparent that the United States is not spending money in the correct ways. A large fraction of taxpayer dollars goes towards the military. It is important to have strong armed forces that are prepared for conflict, but the United States does not need to be spending as much on this sector as it currently does. Rather, more money should be invested internally.
Much of the infrastructure of the United States was built during the time of the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration through his signature of an executive order. This program put millions of individuals to work which involved the construction of schools, roads, bridges, airports, and hospitals (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2017). However, all structures undergo wear and tear and much of the infrastructure that was built decades ago is reaching the end of its lifespan. The government should look to do now what it did in the 1930s, which is to invest in the citizens by offering them jobs. The only difference now is that the replacement infrastructure should be sustainable. For example, the federal government could stimulate the economy by hiring workers to replace gas stations with electric vehicle charging stations. Jobs to install solar panels, wind turbines, hydropower-harnessing dams, and other forms of green energy technology could also be created.
In addition to providing more jobs, the United States government should provide universal healthcare for all citizens, make higher education more accessible by lowering the tuition, and raise the minimum wage. These initiatives provide people within the United States the opportunity to thrive. This paves the way for innovation and limitless opportunity for our nation to be the one to create the ideal successful and sustainable economy. The United States government must provide individuals with the quintessential tools necessary for achievement. If our nation devoted more attention internally, the US quality of life would bolster and improve drastically. With more emphasis placed on long-term strategic planning, a sustainable economy is feasible. There must be a transition away from the traditional “cradle to grave” approach, where products are simply disposed of at the end of their lifespan. Instead, American ingenuity should be geared towards implementing “cradle to cradle”, or regenerative design, ideas to generate a sustainable economy (McDonough, 2005). This innovative approach will ensure the US maximizes the lifespan of resources used. The United States has the potential to be an international leader on all fronts. However, the US will remain a substandard nation if the lackluster efforts to provide opportunities for its citizens do not improve.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Works Progress Administration (WPA).” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Aug. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/Works-Progress-Administration.
McDonough, William. “Cradle to Cradle Design.” TED. Feb. 2005. Lecture.
Smith, Matthew. “These Countries Have the Highest Quality of Life.” World Economic Forum, Business Insider, 1 July 2016, www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/07/these-countries-have-the-highest-quality-of-life.
The United Nations. “The Global Goals for Sustainable Development.” The Global Goals, Sept. 2015, www.globalgoals.org/.