At the recent United Nations conference on “gross national happiness,” a scattering of young participants looked on with a clear sense of urgency as mainly graying dignitaries, economists, scholars and others pondered ways to gauge progress that go beyond traditional monetary measures. One was Christopher Stampar, a sophomore from the University of Miami who works for the nonprofit group Nourish 9 Billion. He received one of the most enthusiastic rounds of applause when he let it slip that he was 19.
Also on hand was Michael Sandmel, who is graduating this year from New York University and involved with the organization U.S. Youth for Sustainable Development. After the one-day session, which included briefings from economic luminaries including Jeffrey Sachs and the economics Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz, he reacted this way in an e-mail message:
It’s great to see new paradigm slowly making its way into the mainstream. I think this is demonstrated quite well by the comments made by professors Sachs and Stiglitz, neither of whom, even four years ago, I would have expected to reference the Easterlin Happiness Paradox or the Planetary Boundaries Framework.
But he added that his generation was not taking a transition for granted, pointing to the student-organized Transition to a New Economy conference that had just been (at) held Harvard:
We had around 140 attendees from universities around the country. Many of us study in mainstream neoclassical economics departments where interdisciplinary ecological-economics, and the questioning of G.D.P. growth as a primary (or, depending on who you ask, desirable) objective, is still very much fringe thinking. I don’t attempt to speak for all of my peers, but I know that many of us share an enormous frustration with the way in which our supposedly leading institutions teach us about the economy in a way that is myopic, ahistorical, and devoid of nearly any critical conversation about sustainability or human well-being. This is particularly troubling as we regularly see our schools accredit future leaders in business, finance, and government, sending them into a world of 21st century problems with a 20th century toolkit. Many of us have been involved in our local Occupy movements, including Occupy Harvard, and have been trying to use the crisis as an opportunity to push an agenda of plausible alternatives to unsustainable and inequitable finance-dominated capitalism. Many of us will be getting together again in June for the Strategies for a New Economy conference at Bard College and will be in Brazil for the Rio+20 conference and the events surrounding it.