Madhavi Venkatesan is an assistant professor of Economics at Northeastern University who teaches the paper called “Economics of Sustainability” where they discuss the consequences of excluding social priorities and personal values from the field of economics. She is also the executive director of an NGO called Sustainable Practices, which works to establish a municipal ban on non-emergency single-use plastic bottles across Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She believes that economic models should be changed to prioritise values, instead of sticking to the price.
We can take the example of a bottle of soda. Buy a bottle of soda at the store has its own factors that are included in the price: the cost to make the soda, to make the bottle, and to transport it to us. Venkatesan says that the price we pay in the store doesn’t really cover the actual cost of our drink. She argues that others, which are considered less tangible costs, should also be incorporated into it. For instance, the environmental cost of breaking down the plastic bottle, the cost to our health by consuming a beverage largely lacking nutrients, and other such long-term effects are ignored. Moral choices are separated from the economic factors in the existing system, creating mechanisms that allow people to distance their choices as consumers from the consequences. When most people go to the grocery store, they decide what to buy based on the face value of different brands. They do not think about the long-term effects of buying plastic or if the company that makes fruit snacks is treating its workers well.
The economic growth of a country is measured by looking at data such as the Gross Domestic Product. Venkatesan says that such metrics don’t paint a full picture of a country’s economic health. For example, the unemployment rate doesn’t account for people’s quality of life. On paper, a country’s workforce can grow because more women are working but the reality might be different. These women might be working only because wages are too low to support their families.
“We have to change our education to make people think not only what benefits them at this moment but how that benefit affects others,” Venkatesan says.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman