Starting again from happiness

In 1930, Maynard Keynes wrote Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren in a very simple and revolutionary thesis. Thanks to the incredible growth of the production method of goods made possible by progress, the men of the future will have to work less and less to meet their own needs. The point, then, is: how can man use the freedom obtained from the pressure of economic needs, what value will free time have? At the time, there may not have been time to devote energy to solving a problem so far from the ruthless practicality of the devastating crisis of ’29. Yet, this unseen text by Keynes highlighted an important question which should be reflected in-depth:

How much money do we need to be happy?

The boost in production and enrichment can not be mankind’s only reason for existence. The collapse of the social system of those years (1929–32) and the current danger of an unsolvable state of contradiction of capitalisam (with the paradoxical horizon of the vast majority of people who are slipping into poverty) are mirrored, although the crises are different. Keynes had probably underestimated the strength of the psychological and behavioural patterns of the capitalist world, even though he was perfectly able to identify the driving force in a very strong appeal of making money and the love for power that wealth brings. Naively, starting from an almost noble idea of the market although aware that appetites grow, Keynes wondered what the true meaning of living well was. How it was possible to reach a balance based on well-being and happiness.

The “business” of the future seems to be just that: the economy of happiness, just as analysts, economists, sociologists and political scientists warn that not only has excessive growth failed to make us happier, but it’s actually destroying everything it finds.

We talk about economic cooperation a lot, but the feeling is the search for a theoretical model to hold on to as encouragement for a future short term salvation. It doesn’t work. The aesthetics of the collaboration on a literary level risks becoming a want but can’t, too philosophically abstract and closed in a hyperuranion that has little to do with the real evils of a society that’s imploding because of technical shortcomings such as corruption, bad politics, bureaucracy, job insecurity, unemployment. In a word, the mentality of the people. The lack of respect of everyone, first of all to themselves.

The idea of building a sense of community, in a people weakened by differences and mistrust is no small feat. Of course, the place to start from, which makes it very difficult to think about the simple implementation of schematic technical models, is their self-satisfaction with respect to what they do and the awareness to use their time to build something indispensable to the construction of a possible system.

In a study presented at TED 2012 by Jane McGonigal and published in the Guardian under the title The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, or the regrets people felt shortly before dying, the sample of the respondents stated:

- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

- I wish I’d had more time for my friends and loved ones

- I wish I’d been happier

- I wish I’d been able to realise my potential

- I wish I hadn’t given up on my dreams

This manifesto has a universal value; it says the things we know, things that seem trivial, but which represent the truth that a great economist like Keynes had already identified in his essay. There’s no reason in hyperproduction and hyperconsumption, because the only point of living is to seek happiness in every possible form.

From a work perspective, then, other transformations have brought profound jolts. The overwhelming advent of the society of knowledge, with the dematerialization of production and consumption processes (the sharing economy is, in part, a child of these times) is pushing us to fall into yet another bubble. We chase the dream of restoring a now dead model, with the belief that capitalism can and should continue to exist. The only change, of course, is that of the strength of technology, which has become social and participatory in the meantime. But the sharing economy is not only Uber or Air Bnb.

From Marx to Weber, Polanyi to Granovetter the model has long been studied, as has the potential of the informal economy, made up of personal relationships, of behaviours that are not encoded by the rules of the traditional economy, mutual aid, trade and barter, made up of loans managed by self-organised groups outside the usual channels of economies (banks or financial); it has been studied for some time and, despite criticism, what comes out is that the intent of these experiments is never the evasion or self-sufficient development of alternative systems to those controlled and regulated by the state. If anything, the opposite. Behind informal economies there is often the responsibility and awareness of the real and true problems of the individuals. There is the desire to build concrete paths of social innovation, encouraging beneficial effects on the territory in the form of truly sustainable services and tangible benefit.

Starting again from groups, then, becomes essential, starting again from the politics of communities with the unveiled target of working every day to improve the living conditions of the people, and to help them in achieving their goals.

For us, this is not just a wish, it is a necessity.