Helena Norberg-Hodge (2012)
The term “economic relocalization” describes a global movement of loosely knit grassroots networks working to strengthen local and regional economies and systems of food and energy production. Most of the last eight years of my life have been focused on grassroots relocalization activities.
What I like best about Economics of Happiness is learning I am part of a global movement. I hate the title, which suggests the film concerns some kind of airy-fairy New Age spirituality. It doesn’t.
The 2011 film, narrated by Helena Norberg Hodge, is based on her 1991 book Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh and her 1993 film by the same name. The book and both films draw their inspiration from the nearly forty years Norberg-Hodge spent living and working in Ladakh, a small Himalayan region in the India-controlled (and disputed) state of Jammu and Kashmir. Economics of Happiness includes local footage from the 1993 film, as well as substantial documentary footage relating to the world’s current economic crisis and impending ecological crisis (stemming from catastrophic climate change and mass extinctions).
The Psychological Devastation of Globalization
The film opens with the same narrative Norberg-Hodge recounts in her earlier Ancient Futures film. We are shown the “before” image of Ladakh, a rich thriving culture in which residents live in large spacious homes, enjoy generous leisure time and have no concept of unemployment. Then we have the “after” image where, thanks to globalization, cheap (government subsidized) food, fuel and consumer goods have flooded the region and destroyed residents’ traditional livelihoods. Previously pristine communities face rising levels of air and water pollution, while Ladakhi teenagers face continual bombardment with pro-consumption messages.
It’s heartbreaking to see the psychological effect of all this. Most young Ladakhi have come to regard themselves as backwards and poor, while the communities they live in face rising racial tensions, juvenile delinquency and epidemic levels of major depression.
The Destructive Nature of Urbanization
The film goes on to sketch the mechanics of globalization, stressing the deregulation that forces small self-contained regions like Ladakh to open their markets to foreign goods, which quickly supplant local products. Norberg-Hodge paints an even uglier picture of urbanization, an inevitable result of forcing millions of small formers off their land. She stresses that city living is vastly more resource intensive than rural lifestyles. All city residents rely on food, energy and water transported from some distant source. They burn up additional fossil fuels transferring their waste as far away as possible. She stresses that most city residents go along with the massive ecological and social devastation they produce because it occurs on the other side of the world. Thus they don’t see it.
Rebuilding Local Communities and Economies
The solutions Norberg-Hodge offers for all these problems are similar to those proposed by an increasing number of dissident (non Wall Street) economists. First and foremost we must acknowledge that humankind has exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity – that the corporate drive for continual economic growth must end. Secondly people of conscience need to opt out of the corporate economy to facilitate the creation of more efficient and environmentally accountable regional and local economies.
Norberg-Hodge also sees the process of rebuilding local communities as a remedy for what she describes as the “crisis of the human spirit.” She blames this pervasive spiritual crisis on the demise of community engagement that has accompanied globalization and urbanization. Although the process is most striking in remote regions like Ladakh, where it occurred suddenly, nowhere in the developed or developing world has escaped it.
The film ends on an extremely optimistic note, with numerous examples of international and community organizations supporting people in reclaiming their lives from multinational corporations.
Economics of Happiness can be rented (and watched online) from the filmmakers for $5