Dynamic and Competitive
“Inclusive and sustainable industrialization is essential to achieve sustainable development. It unleashes dynamic and competitive economic forces that generate employment and income, facilitate international trade, and enable efficient use of resources. As such, it is a major driver of poverty alleviation and shared prosperity.”
LI Yong – Director General, UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation). Foreword to Industrial Development Report 2018.
One need not look hard nor long to see the results of the dynamic and competitive economic forces unleashed in the period between the late 18th century and today. Economists have identified four industrial revolutions in history during which humans have gone rapidly from basic subsistence farming using rudimentary tools to wearable technologies which can very quickly transmit personal data to remote locations. The fifth revolution, the era of AI, artificial intelligence, is already with us. Online commerce, driverless trucks, ride-sharing apps, manufacturing robotics, pro-active healthcare management, disease mapping, and many more.
This article examines some relationships between industrial development – as a major driver of poverty alleviation and shared prosperity, and health/wellness/wellbeing…defined here as – ‘the overall mental and physical state of a person. The absence of disease. The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.’
Two men define the scope of this essay…each typical of a type. Both relaxing on his separate porch on a sun-kissed, tropical beach nuzzling a small village. One man is a simple fisherman who owns a leaky old boat and lives in a three-room cabin he built himself. His neighbour is a wealthy businessman who spends the winter months every year in a luxurious beach house with a sunken three-car garage and a raised sundeck. They were boys together on this beach years and oceans ago.
The fisherman has always been a fisherman…as was his father and his father’s father before him. If pressed he might say that his most prized possessions are his great grandfather’s compass, his woman and children and the family bible.
The wealthy businessman’s father was a shopkeeper near this same beach. Thirty years ago, when his father died, the businessman – who was not wealthy then sold the shop and went to the big cities to make his fortune.
Now after leveraging his hugely successful businesses, he is retired with four palatial homes around the world, two yachts and three jets.
Where we are today
In general humans today are longer-lived, healthier, wealthier, know more, are more efficient, more creative, have greater access to a wider variety of goods and services and have more time for leisure, pleasure and personal growth when compared to a century and a half ago…or even fifty years ago. This is the direct result of sustained economic growth and industrial development in the developed world.
There is no denying the considerable advances in technology and the evident improvements in the quality of life. Even so, many people, including the privileged, are still unhealthy and humans remain, and are likely to remain susceptible to disease and injury. Statistics suggest that a large percentage of industrialized populations is more stressed now and spend more time and money on health and medical interventions and products than at any time in history. Contrary to what one would normally expect.
In fact, many have argued that the human quest towards ‘development’ and industrialization and the success of that initiative among many populations is in fact inherently responsible for the high incidence of disease and ill health. The longest-lived individuals, largest numbers of long-livers and the healthier populations are not in the more affluent regions of the more prosperous or industrialized societies. Many are in the economically poorer and so-called undeveloped and underdeveloped nations of the planet.
Industrialization has certainly made life easier, provided more time and resources for a ‘good life’ and greater access to ever more pleasurable toys and activities. But for whom and at what long-term cost?
At the same time global health authorities have identified factors such as chronic stress, hormone disrupting chemicals, electro–smog, sedentary lifestyle, nutritional deficiencies, industrial and agricultural toxins, endocrine disruptors, polluted air, poor sleep habits,…among several other characteristics that have come to define the modern, developed world…as the greatest health risk factors impacting negatively on human health, quality of life, productivity and longevity.
“The incommensurability between the modern economic system and the people who staff it explains why modern workers have so often been depicted as ‘cogs’ in the larger ‘machinery’ of industrial civilization; for while the practical rationalization of enterprise does require workers to be consistent, predictable, precise, uniform, and even to a certain extent creative, it does not really require them to be persons – that is, to live examined lives, to grow, to develop character, to search for truth, to know themselves, etc.”
Mr. Gay is talking about the poor working-class members of affluent societies. Our wealthy businessman above is far more materially wealthy than his fisherman friend. He has his homes, jets, and success. He has his gyms and club memberships, trainers, and personal assistants. He also has the fears and anxieties of the wealthy, ambitious, hard-working, successful businessman and the doctors’ bills and medications that seem an ineffable aspect of the lifestyle….
He has acquired the resources and the opportunities to live an examined life, to grow, to develop character, to search for truth, to know himself…to be a healthy, contented, and fit person. And yet…
What is wealth really?
On this day, sitting next to his old friend… he knows he would trade his Audemars Piquet, Berluti and Armani brands for the simple life of this fisherman. It is after all exactly what he has spent many years sacrificing and working to achieve.
So, what value does he assign his health. Is it found in and worth the thousands of dollars he spent on his gym equipment and polo club membership? He has discovered that forest bathing and a regular dip in the ocean is worth as much, if not more, but cost virtually nothing?
His white truffles and wagyu steaks make the appropriate statement, but he knows they are not as good for him as the freshly caught fish and home-grown, organic vegetables served at the fisherman’s table.
His company’s Bombardier Global 7000 can get him nonstop from Sydney to New York in 20 hours of unparalleled comfort. On those trips, he dreams of spending the day fishing in a leaky old boat, drinking beer, and smoking illegal substances.
“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” ― Herophilus
…and sometimes at the end, all that was lost and gained and gambled again on the multiple swings and roundabouts and roller-coasters of life and business, seem hardly worth the effort, time and sacrifice, especially if your final destination turns out to be the same, simple beach you pushed off from in the first place.