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Lessons from Arizona

/ 12:15 AM October 24, 2015

The international Society for Quality of Life Studies (Isqols) is an association of researchers who recognize, use and produce meaningful measures of the state of human wellbeing, i.e., measures far superior to the Gross National Product. The researchers of Social Weather Stations are part of this community.

In the Isqols 2015 conference on Oct. 15-17 in Phoenix, Arizona, my SWS colleagues Linda Guerrero, Gerardo Sandoval and Vladymir Licudine had papers on “Social acceptance of alternative families across time and country” and “Intergenerational mobility in East Asia.” I attended as an Isqols board member. Phoenix was very hot (100 degrees F), and very educational.

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The keynote speaker was the economist Richard Easterlin, of the “Easterlin paradox” fame. When countries are plotted on a chart with per capita GNP on the horizontal axis and their people’s satisfaction with life on the vertical axis, then the two measures initially grow together, but soon reach a plateau where the satisfaction with life is flat despite very large differences in GNP per person.

Assuming that the picture across countries is also valid across points in time, it would appear that a country, once reaching the plateau, does not get happier as it grows richer. What then is the use of economic growth? (The Philippines, by the way, is right at the edge of the plateau.)

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To critics insisting they have evidence of connections of economic growth to happiness, Easterlin’s response is that such data are about short-term, rather than long-term, changes over time. He maintains that the long-term trend of happiness is flat, with short-term ups and downs in reaction to fluctuations in economic growth. On the other hand, the long-term trend of per capita GNP itself is not flat but upward. He titled his talk “Paradox Lost?” and in effect answered his own question with a “No.”

Other conference papers showed—and I confirmed it with the authors—that the proportion below the national poverty line has been flat for the last three decades in the United States, and for the last two decades in Germany. (This means longer than the so-called “lost decade” in the fight against poverty in the Philippines.)

Who then were the Americans and Germans that benefited from the long-term economic growth in their countries? It is clear that those countries’ rich got richer, while their poor got left behind. The benefits from GNP growth did not trickle down; they were sucked upward. The experience of prolonged poverty together with rising inequality is another way of validating the Easterlin paradox.

What happened to the Native Americans? In Phoenix, we had a guided tour of the Heard Museum of native American culture and art. Its collection is beautiful. The guide was quite competent, but, interestingly, not a native American.

By nature, we members of Isqols are sensitive to the plight of indigenous peoples, who are typically left behind. Two cartoons in the New Yorker magazine come to mind, one with a British military officer reacting to an American military officer in this way: “You’re quite right about our mistakes in handling an empire, old chap. On the other hand, our Indians are still alive.” Another cartoon has a native American father and son leaving a movie house, and the son saying, “Sure, Dad, I enjoyed the movie. But why don’t we ever win?”

Arizona was formerly Mexican territory. In one of the conference sessions, a Mexican participant pointed out that all of Arizona itself had been part of a huge territory of Mexico that was lost to the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War.

Mexico, which had newly secured its independence from Spain in 1821, was an obstacle to America’s so-called “Manifest Destiny,” the 19th-century ideology that it was destined to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This later expanded to America’s being destined to bring the benefits of democracy to the lesser peoples of the world.

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In 1846 there was a border dispute between the United States, which claimed the border as Rio Grande, and Mexico, which claimed the border as Rio Nueces (now in central Texas). The United States, claiming that Mexico had invaded its territory and attacked and killed a number of its troops, declared war on Mexico in May 1846, made a full-scale invasion, and won a succession of battles until in September 1847 its forces entered Mexico itself, which had been abandoned by its military commander.

The war was ended in February 1848 by the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (now a suburb of Mexico City), which set the border from Rio Grande in the east to San Diego, California, in the west. Mexico ceded its immense area in between, some 1.3 million square kilometers, including nearly all the present area of New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas and western Colorado. Arizona in particular has a land area of 295,000 square kilometers, just about equal to the Philippines’ 300,000 square kilometers. All residents in the said areas, including Anglos, Mexicans and Indians, were supposed to become US citizens.

In return, the United States was to pay Mexico the sum of $15 million. What a bargain.

It was 50 years later that Adm. George Dewey sailed into Manila Bay to engage the Spanish fleet. What did the Filipino revolutionaries who praised the United States in June 1898 in Kawit, Cavite, know of the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo? What could they have expected of the December 1898 Treaty of Paris?

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Contact [email protected]

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TAGS: Arizona, International Society for Quality of Life Studies, ISQOLS, Mexico, Social Weather Stations, United States
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