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Wednesday 17th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Freddy Ehlers spoke to Sean Hawkey about Ecuador’s use of an indigenous model of socialism to move beyond GDP growth

Buen Vivir doesn’t have a straightforward translation in English, but might be best translated as Plentiful Living. 

More than happy living or wellbeing, it is about human beings fully developing their capacities. 

Happiness is about doing what you are capable of doing — if you are a painter paint, if a sculptor sculpt, if you are a farmer work the land — and being able to live decently with enough to live, without wastefulness or harm to nature.

There are two parts to this — one is about your material well-being, and the other part is about subjective or spiritual well-being, so it’s also about internal aspects of human beings. 

The constitution of Ecuador is based on plentiful living and it comes from an indigenous Kichwa concept, a form of socialism that the Incas practised, “Sumak Kawsay.” 

President Correa asked me to organise the first Ministry of Plentiful Living a year and a half ago.

There’s an interesting work on the concept of the economics of happiness by the Labour economist and peer Richard Layard, but these ideas go back to Aristotle, Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx, people who thought deeply about the purpose of human existence. 

The conclusion they came to is that the meaning of life is to be happy or at least as happy as we can be. The “pursuit of happiness” features in the prologue of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. 

This idea of happiness has been replaced over the last 200 years with the idea of simply material wellbeing, with how much the country has and how much the person has. That’s why we’re living in an unhinged and schizophrenic world. 

On any news bulletin we can see terrible news of the effects of climate change — droughts, storms, floods, all caused by man’s pollution of the environment. 

On the same bulletin they might say “great news” — economic growth in Europe is up by 2 or 3 per cent, we’re going to sell more cars or aeroplanes. It is madness, it’s a duality — the duality that Erich Fromm spoke so much about. 

We are afraid, we don’t want the world to end, but at the same time we want to consume and consume, and that is the very cause of the destruction of the world. 

That’s why in Latin America we think we need a revolution that is internal, an inner revolution, a spiritual revolution. And when we talk about a spiritual revolution it has nothing to do with religion. 

Spirituality is about our relationship with love and with beauty. An atheist person can be profoundly spiritual — it’s about human spirit. 

We believe that we need to have a big change in human spirit so that we can live well, and not “better.” 

The Chancellor of Bolivia, a wise man, Jose Choquehuanka, says that the West has been wrong in capitalism and socialism. In one the focus is money, in the other the focus is man — it’s anthropocentric. 

What Latin America says is that the focus needs to be life, nature. 

It isn’t possible for man to be happy if our water is poisoned, if we kill the species we live with. Right now our rivers are being polluted, our oceans are at a critical point of acidification and climate change is beginning to crush us. 

I’m optimistic because young people see this — in particular young socialists are working very closely with environmental issues, and this wasn’t true before. 

Beforehand we had struggles focused on better pay and conditions, but if people were successful they became consumerists. People went from poverty to consumerism, which is worse for the world than poverty. You can get out of poverty — but it’s hard to escape from consumerism. Very few people leave consumerism. This is the theory that we work with in the Ministry of Plentiful Living. 

We are creating small units in every area of government to consider and aim for happiness in everything we do. This is our aim. 

If we build a road or an airport, we need to ask if it will make people more happy or not. 

We are following the example of Bhutan. We are changing from measuring the Gross Domestic Product of the country, which is purely economic, to measuring the Gross Domestic Happiness of the country. 

Bolivia and Ecuador are going along this path and now so is Uruguay too. Pepe Mujica is possibly the best example in the world of a president who not only preaches, but practises plentiful living. 

He says that we’ve got a really short life, so why don’t we enjoy it instead of waging wars and worrying about capitalist competition to get more money. We’re ill! 

We want to change public servants in Ecuador to help society. We need to create an atmosphere in the civil service and government where we promote happiness and health, and work and education. 

And finally, we all need to do what I’m doing with you, with the Morning Star, to bring our message from Latin America to all the women and men of the world, that we need to unite, we need to change the model we’re using. 

Making money is not good business, the only good business is producing happiness for everyone. 


Minister Freddy Ehlers was interviewed by Sean Hawkey during the UN climate talks COP20 in Lima, Peru.