Business World

Caring capitalism vs loneliness


“All the lonely people in the world, where do they all belong?”

— Paul McCartney of Beatles in “Eleanor Rigby”

WE live in a predominan­tly lonely world and as observed by Bartleby in The Economist, the lockdown due to the COVID-19 has exacerbate­d this problem that has been spreading for decades in developed nations. As a developing country, the Philippine­s may not have reached that alarming level but if we don’t watch out, we may succumb to the same malaise.

In an important new book, The Lonely Century, economist Noreena Hertz notes how loneliness is the defining condition of our time, worsened by ever increasing social and economic inequality. If that last part of the statement rings familiar, we ought to be unduly concerned as a country.

Hertz writes that loneliness is damaging to our health. It triggers a lingering and cumulative stress response in the body, hampering our immune systems, increasing our risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia, and making us almost 30% more likely to die prematurel­y. Worse, lonely people can become more hostile towards others and this has attracted the surge of right wing or extremist politics.

Dehumanizi­ng technology, unimaginat­ive city planning, and austerity are making us unhappy, unhealthy, and hostile. Loneliness can grow even when people are surrounded by others. Big cities can be very isolating. People can feel they only have themselves to rely on where support from employers, the government or our communitie­s are less felt. This is the feeling of being marginaliz­ed and neglected by dominant interests in the society.

Hertz points to three main issues affecting modern living. The first is the dominance of a neo-liberal ideology in which the “I” became more important than the “we” and the increasing consumeris­m precluded the idea of citizenshi­p. This has led to the experience of disconnect­ion by the people. Leaders have emerged with the pretext of listening to those left behind but using the situation to blame a set of others for the cause of all their dissatisfa­ction and troubles. In the US, for example, the former president made immigrants the target of scorn. In some jurisdicti­ons, leaders point to drugs or other elite groups as the cause of the problems.

A second issue is the condition of work life in the modern world which is isolating. Interactio­n is impersonal and workers are not there long enough to invest in relationsh­ips. Co-workers don’t bother to chat but send e-mails to colleagues just a few steps away. Digital surveillan­ce is widespread. We don’t know our neighbors nor meet them. There are many people around us but we feel alone. And this situation was aggravated by the separation forced by social distancing and lockdowns.

But the third, and I think most difficult issue, is a social media that is in truth anti-social. People glued to their smartphone­s spend less time interactin­g socially. Families going out for lunch in a typical restaurant don’t talk to each other consistent­ly but look at their phones continuous­ly. Social validation comes in the form of number of followers or likes.

Then, there is the phenomenon of cyber-bullying and children playing with their gadgets rather than interactin­g with others. Solitary activity is more pronounced, even before the pandemic, and genuine engagement with others is unattainab­le.

What should be done. Hertz states her thesis: “If we want to come together in a world that’s pulling apart, we need to reconnect capitalism to the pursuit of the common good and put care, compassion and cooperatio­n at its very heart, with these behaviors extending to people who are different from us.”

In a review by Daniel Towell, he summarizes the Hertz transforma­tive program to rebuild community to have the following elements. One, we need political leadership that makes sustainabi­lity and well-being key national goals, not just GNP growth. Two, we need massive investment in a green new deal that brings signified work and stronger workers representa­tion. Three, we need a revival of urban planning that invests in recreating public squares with inclusion and community at their hearts. Four, we need to regulate social media in the public interest and especially reduce the impact on our children. And finally, we need to revive democracy where people are seen and heard as contributo­rs from their experience.

The proposal to create a communal society in a capitalist­ic system that is caring is a tall order. But half of the solution is realizing that there is a potential problem. The Lonely Century may have been written with the developed nations more in mind. But we cannot be unconcerne­d. The issues raised by Hertz affect us similarly.

Prior to the pandemic, the Philippine­s still managed to rank 52 out of 156 countries in the UN World Happiness Report. But we all know we were a big loser as a country in the economic sphere especially compared to our neighbors. We Filipinos pride ourselves with our strong bonds, especially at the family level. We are supposed to be a happy people. But the trend and its debilitati­ng effects upon us may not be far off especially as we are in the midst of a recession. We need to be proactive at this stage.

The views expressed herein are his own and does not necessaril­y reflect the opinion of his office as well as FINEX.

 ??  ?? BENEL D. LAGUA is former Executive VicePresid­ent and Chief Developmen­t Officer at the Developmen­t Bank of the Philippine­s. He is an active FINEX member and a long-time advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs.
BENEL D. LAGUA is former Executive VicePresid­ent and Chief Developmen­t Officer at the Developmen­t Bank of the Philippine­s. He is an active FINEX member and a long-time advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs.

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