May 28

A Capital Idea Part 10: Well-Being as Capital

Presumably, the entire idea of capital is to create more well-being -- health, happiness and security. Capital represents resources which can be used to create more resources, which leads to more well-being. In that sense, this post gets to the heart of the matter.

Abundant evidence from psychological research indicates that happiness makes people more productive. Conversely, being productive makes people more happy. In terms of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, generativity is essentially the second highest goal people have in life, with integrity being the ultimate goal. In terms of humanistic theory as proposed by Carl Rogers as well as Abraham Maslow, the goal of personal development is self-actualization, which can be conceived as being the ultimate in well-being. Psychological research which touches on this topic is generally in agreement that the consequences of true well-being (health, the desire to be generative, self-actualization) are good in terms of productivity. (This is in contrast to the disingenuous self-esteem, narcissism and false sense of entitlement which is so prevalent in our capitalist society, especially among the rich.)

The amount of productive work lost to depression, anxiety disorders, and the self-medication of drug abuse is enormous. Were we able to significantly reduce these problems, our workforce would be much more productive. Unfortunately, our winner-take-all social and political system, and fast-paced, you-can-and-should-have-it-all mindset, makes it inevitable that a large proportion of our population will continue to struggle with such problems until our system changes. Similarly, the cost of health problems in terms of lost productivity is enormous as well. Yet, even though the United States has the latest available medical technology, our for-profit health care system ensures that the majority of our population (including myself) will continue to find adequate health care extraordinarily expensive, thus shunning the system to the point that it is inevitable that the health of the average American will suffer and be worse than that of people in other nations, whose politicians long ago understood, unlike our stupid leaders who are blinded by capitalistic greed, that health care is a right which benefits society in terms of health, happiness and economic productivity. Despite the recent health care bill's passage, we for now will continue to suffer under a for-profit health care system, and the cost of health insurance for people such as myself is likely to continue to increase.

To go one step further, well-being is itself a form of capital. Our health is a resource which, used productively, can be used to ensure further health and happiness. Similarly, happiness is a resource which, used wisely, can lead to future happiness and the spreading of happiness to others. True happiness (in contrast to the false happiness of narcissistically based egotism) is self-replicating in a sense, like a form of life, a virus that produces good. What could be a better form of capital than that? Some people have even proposed using a happiness index rather than indices of economic prosperity to measure the success of a society. The leader of one nation (I forget which, but I think it was in Asia) suggested using just such a happiness index. I wholeheartedly agree with this approach.

The happiness of being productive, healthy, doing good, and spreading happiness to others is the true measure of a society's well-being and success. Societies in which conflict prevails are doomed to being unproductive until they figure out how to get along with each other and create a happier society, and those in which oppression prevails will continue to thwart human potential and productivity until the oppression ends. It is not about business, capitalism, building factories, etc. It is about cooperation and developing and using our understanding to create a better society. The better we do this, the better future we create. Now, that is true capital. After all, what could represent the concept of capital better than something which creates a beneficial, happy, productive, progressive future? I say it is high time that we, as a society, recognize the reality of well-being as true capital.

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