Economics of Happiness vs. Corporate Globalization

I just watched the condensed version of the award winning film, “The Economics of Happiness.” It is available on the Local Futures website. It confirms just about all the research findings on climate change, globalization, poverty, pollution, violence, and a host of other issues I have followed for the past decade while writing my forthcoming book, At the Edge of Illusion: Preparing for the New Great Transformation.

The book is in the last stages of editing before submission for publication. So, given the complexities of the publishing industry it is not likely to be released until the end of the year — assuming everything goes well. Meanwhile, I will be renovating this website and include some excerpts from the book in a new section of pages.

Part of the research I’ve been engaged in while writing the book involves trying to understand the idea of progress as it has evolved in the industrial age and how that relates to actual human happiness. As it turns out, genuine happines — as compared with the momentary exhiliration that might result from buying some new product — is found most consistently among people who live in just a few places in the world. Those places,  called “Blue Zones,” those few places in the world where the special circumstances just seem to produce contentment, and where most of the world’s centenarians live. They have completely avoided globalization…so far.

In contrast, most of us live in cities and suburbs where we are increasingly isolated from real face-to-face relationships that are not mediated by complex institutional requirements imposed upon our time and our minds. Our relations are increasingly mediated by complex economic and institutional requirements that leave little room for direct human relationships with other persons — as themselves.

Our emotional, personal, interpersonal, and thereby cultural lives become entangled with a process of “intermediation” by layers of social complexity. This is embodied by corporate state taken as a whole, the essence of what Chris Hedges calls “The Empire of Illusion.” The globalized economic-growth leviathon is the “technosphere” that Dmitry Orlov argues we must shrink to improve the declining odds for human survival.

Sheldon Wolin refers to the larger political-economic structure of the corporate state in which we live as the “inverted totalitarianism” of Democracy, Incorporated. An essential element of complex civilizations is the “intermediation” of endless layers of social complexity between people who would otherwise simply exchange one valued good or service for another — or just socialize face to face.

Joseph Tainter’s 1988 classic, The Collapse of Complex Civilizations, attributes the collapse of complex societies throughout history to such complexities. John Michael Greer predicts a Dark Age America resulting from the convergence of climate change, economic crises and cultural collapse, the beginnings of which we already experience. He predicts a process of “disintermediation” of economic activity over the coming several hundred years, accompanied by major population decline, leading to a new feudal period.

I think ecological, climate, and societal collapse will unfold much faster than Greer expects, unless drastic climate action and radical societal re-organization can be initiated very soon. Many others, of course, comfortably assume that economic growth and technological innovation can get us out of any fix. They are dead wrong.

Michael E. Mann

Jon Foley, in a conversation with Michael Mann on the occasion of Mann’s receipt of the seventh annual Stephen Schneider Award, said that in contrast to such blind optimism, “Hope is where you role up your sleeves and get to work.” That is the kind of Hopeful Realism I like to hear.


4 thoughts on “Economics of Happiness vs. Corporate Globalization

  1. Greetings, great article. I’ve read a few others you’ve written, and am curious if you might be interested in coming on my podcast as a guest at some point? My podcast is A Worldview Apart, and you can browse through episodes here:, or on iTunes, Spotify, etc. I am particularly interested in your take on the idea of indigeneity, although I suspect we could find other things to talk about too.

    All the best,



    1. Thank you, Eric. I took a quick look at your site, scanning through the episodes. Looking through the guests you have brought to the podcast, I was impressed with their diversity and quality. I would certainly agree that we could find any number of things to discuss. I also browsed the article, “Overcoming System Roadblocks…” you co-authored in PNAS, and agree with most of what is said there. The big question, though, is “how to get there from here.”

      I have an article, “Becoming Indigenous,” published in awhile back, that some mistook for ‘romanticizing primitives,’ but which was intended to emphasize the need for ‘modern’ culture to “re-attach” itself to the natural world, which, of course, native cultures have done perforce. Civilizations have come and gone, depending on their ability to respond to conditions that they in many cases caused. But now, since industrial civilization has gone global, the issue is species-level. Yet, at scale things look pretty dim. So, we have a dilemma that begins where the “Overcoming System Roadblocks” article leaves off. No simple answers I’m afraid, but some directions seem essential…

      I look forward to further conversations.


      1. Great! Is there a way I can contact you outside of these comments? Or would you be willing to reach out to me through my website’s contact form so we can talk further by email? My website is


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