Dr Josep M. Coll, director of the International Master in Sustainable Business & Innovation, explores ideas introduced in his recently published book, The Economy of Happiness: the key roles of technology, inequality and work in post capitalist society (Economía de la Felicidad: las claves de la tecnología, la desigualdad y el trabajo en el poscapitalismo). The book was co-authored with Dr Xavier Ferràs, and focuses on the key variables that contribute to an economy dedicated to generating happiness.
What do you understand by happiness? Does it really exist or is it becoming an increasingly unattainable goal?
Happiness is above all an ambition. It is a universal value which everyone aspires to regardless of their gender, identity, culture, race or level of wealth. What differentiates us is the way that each person understands how to reach a state of happiness. For some it lies in the simple pleasures of daily life, for others it means feeling part of a group, contributing to society or forming a family. However, globalisation and the boom of modern capitalism (from the Chicago School or Neoliberalism) have given rise to a fairly common view that materialism (the accumulation of economic value via the cycle of production and consumerism) is the path which leads to happiness.
How is the economy related to this path to happiness?
This idea of happiness is directly related to the economy. However, the economy as a social science has forgotten about happiness.
Our book addresses the need to design an economy which can be used to cultivate this concept of happiness and not just be an end in itself. The book proposes a roadmap of specific measures which advocate an economy that will really serve people and the planet.
Could you explain at a bit about the crossroads that you talk about in the book?
Imagine that you have spent your whole life on the same path without questioning anything. First you study to get a good job, then you work to earn a living and finally you spend your money so that you can enjoy life. Suddenly, for the first time in your life, you come to a fork in this path. On one side, you see a path of abundance where there are enough resources for everyone. Technology has freed up energy resources and precarious employment and it simplifies problems and improves experiences.
On the other side, you see a path of technological feudalism: massive inequality, poverty and job insecurity in a world governed by the excessive power of technological ultra-capitalism with a few but very large companies exerting their power and global dominance.
It all depends on us to choose and design the vehicle that allows us to travel along the path of abundance. For this to happen we need to build a real economy based on the values and knowledge (the vehicle) that can generate a shared value for all stakeholders and at the same time be sustainable and planet-friendly (the destination).
You also warn us that we are moving towards a low-cost economy that generates precarious employment. Are we heading towards an uncertain future?
We have already seen evidence of the first wrong step towards technological feudalism. Despite recent economic growth, salaries remain stagnant and as a result people have lost purchasing power.
This is why we decided to write this book: to take a step back towards that fork in the path, to understand what is happening and the variables that are causing it and be able to apply new measures (some of them disruptive) that respond to the needs of a new emerging paradigm. Here the challenge lies in putting people at the centre of an economic system that is currently suffering from massive inequality and environmental damage and putting the health of the planet seriously at risk.
What challenges do we face when using technology to tackle poverty, inequality and job insecurity?
The first and greatest challenge we face is to identify and overcome our own ignorance. Where are we heading? Why do we exist? How can we contribute to our own happiness and that of others? It seems that nowadays these are questions which irritate a society which is distracted and does not think before acting.
The second challenge lies in tackling the ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies. Should we be using drones to destroy human military targets? Should we be investing public money into immortality research? Will AI take over the world one day? These are open questions related to events which are happening today and to which the world of politics and the economy have to react in a more rigorous, inclusive and realistic way.
The third challenge is the democratisation of power or, in other words, empowering the people through the use of technology to free up resources in an inclusive economy. Techno-social and sustainable innovation.
Does Milton Friedman’s statement about “only increasing profits for company shareholders” still hold true?
It still holds true for some but it makes no sense if we look at it from a global ethical, social, environmental and even economic perspective. Current pioneering research in management science has revealed that the companies which follow Friedman’s theory are less profitable. However, the companies that implement objectives and strategies focused on generating a shared value for all of their stakeholders (employees, clients, suppliers, investors, environment…) are more profitable at all levels: economic, social and environmental.
How does the Master in Sustainable Business & Innovation approach some of the issues you raise in your book like the crossroads and the new business paradigm?
This programme is based on the framework of the path of abundance. It has been designed to offer first-rate academic and practical training in leadership, management and innovation which companies and organisations need to be able to face the challenge and opportunity of sustainability and the transformation process towards this new paradigm.
The programme content includes key subjects such as the management of new techno-economies, smart cities, innovative ecosystems, sustainable strategy, systemic thinking and human-centred design among others. We will be tackling business case studies which illustrate new challenges and hear from prestigious speakers and professors of leading international issues as well as visit companies and important events such as the Mobile World Congress, the Smart City Expo and the World Congress.
This master’s degree is attracting talent from all over the world especially from social entrepreneurs and changemakers. These are future business leaders who see an opportunity to change a company’s direction and build a real economy that serves happiness.