IZA Discussion Paper No. 14980

Neo-Humanism and COVID-19: Opportunities for a Socially and Environmentally Sustainable World

A series of crises, culminating with COVID-19, shows that going “Beyond GDP” is urgently necessary. Social and environmental degradation are consequences of emphasizing GDP as a measure of progress. This degradation created the conditions for the COVID-19 pandemic and limited the efficacy of counter- measures. Additionally, rich countries did not fare much better during the pandemic than poor ones. COVID-19 thrived on inequalities and lack of cooperation. In this article, we leverage on defensive growth theory to explain the relationships between these factors, and we put forward the idea of neo-humanism, a cultural movement grounded on evidence from quality-of-life studies. The movement proposes a new culture leading towards a socially and environmentally sustainable future. Specifically, neo-humanism suggests that prioritizing well-being by, for instance promoting social relations, would benefit the environment, and enable collective action to address public issues. This, in turn, would positively affect productivity and health — among other behavioral outcomes — and thereby instill a virtuous cycle. Such a society would have been better endowed to cope with COVID-19, and possibly even prevented the pandemic. Neo-humanism proposes a world in which the well-being of people comes before the well- being of markets, in which promoting cooperation and social relations represents the starting point for better lives, and a peaceful and respectful coexistence with other species on Earth.

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