Human Security and Well Being: Addressing Inequality and the Dysfunctions of the Economic Growth Model

Michael Drinkwater, WayFair Associates (London, UK): Human Security and Well Being: Addressing Inequality and the Dysfunctions of the Economic Growth Model

“The most significant challenges in the pursuit of social sustainability lie in the global political and economic dominance of a model that gives primacy to the furthering of economic growth. This costs of this model are huge and growing – the proliferation of wealth and social inequality to an extent that the extreme rich are now escaping forms of justice to which the rest of us are subject, and the ruining of our environment, with complete disregard to the futures of our children and their children’s children.

The main measures of progress used in nearly all societies remain those of economic growth, at societal level, and of income, at an individual level. Such measures ignore, for instance, levels of fulfillment of human rights, even if human rights remain our most complete measure of the justice experienced by all people. Given the extreme dysfunctions that the economic growth model is now generating, human societies require alternative measures of assessing their health. In recent years, more attention has been given to the use of models of human well being, with a distinction between hedonic well being – which could be aligned with the pursuit of pleasure at the expense of others – and eudaimonic well being. Eudaimonic well being, in contrast, focuses on meaning and self-realization and includes a social element in its definition terms of the degree to which a person is fully functioning.

Amongst the elements essential to the future of humanity that the economic growth model dismisses or ignores, is the cost of a model that encourages those with power to pursue their own interests at the expense of both the environment and other humans. Such a model exacerbates conflict and the destruction of finite resources. It has disrupted the symbiotic relationships that some societies have had with their environments, and led to perturbations on a global scale that have increased the complexity and unpredictability of environmental and social trends. It is small wonder that most science fiction movies depict societies where the earth’s environment has been destroyed to a greater or lesser extent, and the wealthy live in armed enclaves to protect themselves against the remnants of the rest of society, whose lives they have destroyed.

A human security approach recognizes that human beings exist as whole persons (and not in fractions and decimals) and that sustaining a person’s life involves satisfying various threshold-level requirements. As part of being a whole person, it also recognizes that each human being has a body, gender, emotions, life cycle, and a complex identity and social bonds.

Finally, within the international development sector, models and approaches of empowerment have also been elaborated and expanded within the last decade or so. Such models can take isolated elements of empowerment in an instrumental manner, aka “economic empowerment”, but if they are human focused will embrace multiple dimensions in a holistic way.

In a pursuit of social sustainability we require a model and approach that subsumes the economic to the social (and environmental), rather than sees all three of them as equal. In addition, such a model requires ‘Individuals and communities [to] have the options necessary to end, mitigate or [sufficiently] adapt to threats to their human, social and environmental rights [and to] have the capacity and freedom to exercise these options”, which a human security approach offers.

In this presentation, I will seek to combine the elements of these different approaches “eudaimonic well being, human security, and empowerment perspectives” and illustrate some of their implications for approaches in the context of international development. I will use as an illustration work with which we are currently engaged in reviewing the livelihoods strategies in Africa and Asia of a global development organisation.”