Gross National Happiness is a step in that direction. Ever since the King of Bhutan coined the term in the 1970s, it has been lusted over by those in the West who have desired a substitute for Gross Domestic Product. Unlike GDP, which looks strictly at income as a measure of success, GNH takes into account physical wellness, mental health, social issues, politics, workplaces and the environment.

It’s slowly being embraced around the world. British Prime Minister David Cameron supports it, and the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution last year calling for a greater focus on happiness and wellbeing. Earlier this month, for example, the UN released its first ever World Happiness Report, which placed Australia in fourth position, behind only Denmark, Sweden and Canada.
But there are many who think GNH isn’t enough. They want to see capitalism abolished. One such group is The Venus Project, made famous by the Zeitgeist documentary. The founders claim money is inherently corrupt, and so is any person and any nation that relies on it. And their answer isn’t socialism, either, which they consider to be just as bad as capitalism.

Their preferred solution is a ‘resource-based economy’. It’s a concept that advocates the elimination of money. In its place, they believe, should be the planet’s natural resources, to be made equally available to everyone. They feel advanced technologies will make this lifestyle possible, but it’s a notion that won’t gain momentum until there’s a total collapse of the monetary system. Which they reckon is inevitable – even imminent.

In the meantime, The Venus Project seeks to further its cause of eradicating money by, um, asking for money. Donations can be made on their website. (Seriously.)

Critics of capitalism are quick to point out its failures. Three of the most common include the promotion of greed and inequality; the unsustainability of perpetual growth; and the overwhelming power of corporations, which now constitute half of the world’s 100 biggest economies.

But on the other end of the argument are people like Russ Roberts, professor of economics at George Mason University. In Foreign Affairs last year, he wrote that capitalism is struggling today simply because there isn’t enough of it. Anti-capitalists remind him of a doctor who sees a patient with a broken arm. The doctor decides both arms are broken, so he amputates them. “The diagnosis is half right, and the cure may be worse than the disease,” he mused.

Perhaps it’s not so much a case of whether capitalism will cease to exist. Maybe it’s more about the ways that capitalism has to change.

Bill Mitchell is the professor of economics at the University of Newcastle. He told me people these days are saving more of their disposable income and reducing their reliance on credit, and this trend means that:
  • Governments will need to run budget deficits “indefinitely”, just like they did between World War II and the 1970s
  • Wages growth will need to be linked to productivity and “there has to a fundamental shift in the distribution of national income”
  • Increased regulation will also need to occur, particularly in terms of outlawing some financial products, such as over-the-counter derivatives
“Capitalism will have to be re-regulated again for it to survive,” he says. “Governments will have to mediate the class struggle.”
Professor Stephen King from Monash University agrees on the need for tighter laws. “What the GFC has taught us is that market economies need sensible, strong banking regulation,” he says.
“Unfortunately, here in Australia, we have missed this lesson.”
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