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Italian Peace Forum Probes Economics of Happiness

Rome, Italy—UPF-Italy held its sixth Peace Forum of 2023 with the title "Economics in the Service of Peace: Utopia or Concrete Opportunity?"

The guest speaker of the online discussion on September 25, 2023, was Professor Stefano Bartolini, a lecturer in political economy at the University of Siena.

The moderator was Carlo Zonato, the president of UPF-Italy.


Carlo Zonato

Good evening to you all, and thank you for connecting. Until now, however, we had not dedicated any Peace Forum meeting to the topic of economics, so we are happy about this opportunity.

Therefore, having met Stefano Bartolini a few years ago, I asked him if he would be willing to offer us his thoughts with respect to this topic, "Economics in the Service of Peace: Utopia or Concrete Opportunity?" And so, I would like to introduce Professor Stefano Bartolini, who is a professor at the University of Siena, where he teaches political economy and, very uniquely, the only happiness economics course at Italian universities.

He is the author of numerous articles in prestigious international academic journals and popular essays including "Manifesto for Happiness," translated into five languages, and the more recent "Ecology of Happiness," which currently is being translated into English and Japanese.

Among others, he has worked with major international institutions such as the World Bank, the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development] and also the International Panel on Social Progress. Before turning the floor over to him, I’d like to highlight one of his notes. His research starts from the observation that the current economic and social order seems unsustainable from at least three points of view: 1) the degradation of the environment; 2) the degradation of relationships among people; 3) the degradation of people's well-being.

Hence the question: "But why is all this happening?" And most importantly: "Is it possible to reconcile a better quality of our environment, our relationships and our well-being with economic prosperity?" These are questions that already open up very interesting thoughts, and at this point, Stefano, I will definitely give the floor to you. Thank you.


Professor Stefano Bartolini

Thank you, Carlo. You were wondering if an economy that contributes to peace is possible or is it utopia?  The answer is no, it is not utopia; it is possible to build it. The problem is that the current economy does exactly the opposite.

Basically, I will talk about how economics contributes to shaping an inclination to war, to violence, in individuals and nations. And I will also talk about how, instead, we should and can build an economy that produces the exact opposite outcome.

My thesis is that the current economic system is at the root of an epidemic of dissatisfaction, anxiety, fragility, insecurity, and depression. And this epidemic afflicts large sections of the population in contemporary societies. In a word, industrial societies are increasingly populated by unhappy and therefore fearful, defensive individuals who are fascinated by oppositional logics such as good versus bad, or scapegoating.  This condition predisposes individuals to accept violence as an inevitable element of relations between collective entities such as states, like ethnicities or races. And it is the economic system that drives this evolution.

Let me clarify something: I have been doing happiness economics for quite some time; I do happiness studies. The economics of happiness has actually become a very important topic. There are already two Nobel Prize winners in economics who are scholars of happiness, and it has become an important topic since various ways of measuring happiness have been discovered; you do really quantitative studies that tend to answer age-old questions about what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy.

And let's get to the point as to why the economic system produces these outcomes of profound dissatisfaction in the population, in large segments of the population, that predisposes people to accept these logics of opposition, these logics of violence. The point is that we live in an economic system that has made us richer in private goods and poorer in common goods.

Let me explain myself better. Particularly when I talk about commons, I am thinking about human relations, and from the point of view of happiness what we have found is that human relations are a key point. There are many factors that influence the happiness of individuals, but the most important one is relationships. For example, people who are really sick and deeply unhappy are lonely people. Weighing much more than economic poverty on the perception of happiness is poverty of relationships.


Link to the full text:


By Carlo Zonato, president, UPF-Italy
Monday, September 25, 2023


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