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Politics and Culture in an Age of Austerity

Etzioni, Amitai, Politics and Culture in an Age of Austerity (March 5, 2014). International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, February 2014. Available at SSRN:

“The Great Recession forced many people around to cut back on consumption and is one reason that drives the rise of right-wing forces. One response to the downturn has been a call for a return to high-level growth and consumption of goods. By contrast, this paper argues in favor of an alternative conception of the good life. To defend this thesis, it first surveys the social science literature regarding the relationship between income and happiness, noting that the growth of the former does not necessarily translate to improvements in the latter. Next, it provides a number of explanations of why greater income and consumption often do not yield greater happiness. The paper then goes on to discuss historical and theoretical alternatives to consumerism-driven life and society. Finally, it discusses how happiness can best be found in socializing with others, participating in the community, and engaging in spiritual and intellectual pursuits. The paper, thus, concludes that human contentment and flourishing is perhaps best found outside of the high-growth, high-consumption paradigm. Moreover, it finds that such a new normal is not only protective of the environment, but also enhances social justice.”

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