Review by Rocky J. Dwyer
Kerry Smith lives in the Glebe and was copy editor of the Glebe Report for four years. He has also worked in corporate communications, studied for a BA and Master of Divinity and taught applied ethics of care. He brings his diverse experience to bear in his new book, The Well-being First Economy: The Alternative to Patriarchal Values Destroying Us.
The book lays out why Western nations should anchor their economies and politics in a new socio-economic vision based on the ancient philosophy of lifespan care and focus more on well-being, less on profit. Smith argues for the need to unravel patriarchy’s roots from society since patriarchal values exclude lifespan-care elements from current economic models. He sees inherent lifespan care as an alternative to an economy based on the accumulation of absolute wealth rather than values of relative wealth.
What exactly is lifespan care? Smith says it is “a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human, both the receiving and giving of care in the broadest sense across the lifespan and in the best interests of the subject for which we are responsible,” for example, a child, an elderly parent, the environment or a pet. It is an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy, he adds, that “was dropped as an economic concept when Christianity became the dominant, government recognized religion with its concept of incidental care from the Good Samaritan story.”
The book introduces a broad range of thinking and concepts to help readers understand how capitalism has created tremendous pressure to consider every interaction between people as a transaction rather than for society’s well-being. The author explains how adopting the Christian concept led to our existing economic model, which pays for profit with sickness and death.
As an economic researcher, professional accountant and academic, I found Smith’s book to be an exceptional text that integrates both the historical perspective of giving care as an inherent human quality and as a foundational element of our personalities. Smith notes that society needs to develop a lifespan-care perspective in both personal and collective relationships, which is especially relevant since giving care also applies to business decisions. Smith highlights key lifespan-care and other factors that influence how we can shift our thinking and act to move society towards more individual and collective well-being.
The book says younger generations are questioning the current economic model and want more inclusive social structures, a sign that Smith suggests points to growing support for a lifespan-care model to emerge as a strong theme in the economy. However, everyone will need to accept and contribute to integrating it throughout society. This point has led me to increase my emphasis on the value of an integrative lifespan-care approach when teaching. That will help today’s students learn to develop viable, implementable, pragmatic solutions to help individuals, businesses and governments create a roadmap to enshrining lifespan care in society and the economy.
The book is particularly suited to those who want a more comprehensive understanding of how patriarchal values have shaped our economy. Readers will benefit from knowing the theory linked to practical, real-world examples of lifespan care and well-being. It should spark discussion on why and how to move forward in shaping a new more holistic and inclusive economy.
I feel that the only weakness of the book is a lack of detail about how the growing number of multi-generational entrants into society will shape the economy. Smith provides us with a roadmap to the future of lifespan care expressed as well-being. For those interested in successful societal change or moving beyond patriarchal capitalism, this book will be an invaluable resource.
Rocky J. Dwyer is a writer, educator, and researcher on corporate social responsibility, poverty reduction, organizational capacity, performance management and ethics in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.