The trade off between Quality of Life and Standard of Living

Do you know the difference?

“What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
― Henry David Thoreau

It should come as no surprise that the developing world holds the title for pollution  In short, their low wage economies have greatly benefited from globalization. The developed world has shifted a considerable number of manufacturing jobs offshore, attracted by lower labour costs and fewer regulations. This is viewed as creating shareholder value, and a chance for the developing world to lift themselves out of comparative poverty. This immense shift of industry to the nations eager for foreign investment has almost centralized pollution to these regions. To put it simply, they decided that a rise in the standard of living is worth the environmental degradation and health issues, or reduced quality of life.


So, what is the real difference between Quality of Life and Standard of Living?

The answer will differ depending on whom you ask. In my opinion, a standard must be comparable. For example, if a family manages to save enough money for a microwave, then one can argue that their standard of living has increased. However, if that family had to work in a toxic environment, subjecting themselves to health complications in the future, then I argue that their quality of life was reduced in the process. Another example is the Native American Indians. Measuring them against our standards today, they had a lower comparative standard of living. No electricity, internet, cars, modern medicine, planes etc. Conversely, they also didn’t have the level of pollution, overpopulation and ecological destruction we face now. One could argue that they were more happy with their Quality of Life than we are today. They had more time, less stress. A more harmonious way of existing with their environment. The trade off is a difficult decision. In modern terms, how many hours a week should one dedicate to earning income over leisure time? In the West, the majority of us are determined to raise our standard of living. Are we as determined to raise our quality of life?


A glance at the future.

As the global population increases and resources become fewer, we are going to have to evaluate what is important. Is there a different way for us to exist? Is GDP the only real way to measure success? After all, pollution isn’t factored into GDP. Deforestation increases GDP, along with drilling for oil, and mining for minerals. At what point do we realize that we have made a mistake? Is that point reached when we have become lost and ruined our environment? I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that humanity is going to face some major disruptive changes this century, and we are going to need a shift in thinking to overcome it whether we want to believe that today, or whether our collective heads will be forcefully pulled from the sand.

How do you see this century unfolding?

-Thanks for reading. I’ve incorporated some ideas that I’ve read recently.


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