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Why Aristotle would own a surfboard

Why Aristotle would own a surfboard

There aren’t many situations where the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle would be paired with a surfboard.

But Professor Christoph Schumacher chose the title ‘Why Aristotle would own a surfboard’ for his professorial lecture next week because he wants to inject an element of humour to his presentation.

The lecture series invites the public onto Massey University’s Albany campus to hear the university’s leading thinkers speak. Professor Schumacher’s lecture takes place on March 27, and is an unexpected topic for a theoretical micro-economist.

“I saw this professorial lecture as a chance to say what I’ve really wanted to say for years,” Professor Schumacher says. “Our current economic mantra is always about growth, but continuous economic growth is not environmentally sustainable, and it is not making us happy.”

Professor Schumacher says Aristotle had a lot of sensible things to say about the way people should live their lives. “For Aristotle, the purpose of human existence was ‘the good life’. The surfboard is really a metaphor for all those things we enjoy in life but often don’t have time to do.”

In his lecture, Professor Schumacher asks one of the big questions of our time: Should we be aiming for continual economic growth within a finite environment?

“There’s not a single country on this planet that doesn’t have economic growth as one of its key targets. But we have to stop and ask ourselves why.

“The drive for greater growth and productivity is depleting our resources without satisfying our material desires. I’ve linked current GDP growth with various happiness surveys and found the more we grow our national wealth, the less happy we become.”

Professor Schumacher points to the unfulfilled predictions of John Maynard Keynes, one of history’s most celebrated economists, as an example of where the modern world has got it all wrong. Back in 1930 Keynes predicted that increases in productivity and efficiency would lead to a 15-hour working week, and people would choose to have far more leisure time.

Of course the opposite has happened – people are working longer hours than ever before, with expectations that services are available 24 hours per day.

“Economic growth should only be a means to a better life; it shouldn’t be an end unto itself. And it doesn’t make us better people. We accumulate a lot of material things, that is all,” he says.

“My favourite quote comes from British ecological economist Tim Jackson: ‘Our problem is we are persuaded to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to make impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about.’ That’s it in a nutshell.

“And New Zealanders are right at the top of that list – our credit card debt is one of the highest in the OECD.”

Professor Schumacher also argues the case for a system that distributes wealth more evenly. “We have a moral obligation to share more because we really don’t share very well. Under our current economic system we generate more wealth, but it goes into the same pockets.”

In his lecture he says he’ll pose some suggestions, including a shorter working week, which might encourage a better way of living for a greater number of people. “I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s a subject that’s worth at least an hour of consideration. At the very least, I want the lecture to be thought provoking.”

Event details:

Date: Wednesday March 27, 2013
Time: 6.00-7.30pm (Lecture commences at 6.30pm)
Venue: Sir Neil Waters Lecture Theatres, Albany campus, Massey University

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