A Memorandum to Life, the Government, and the Global Economy

December 12, 2016

The following lines were composed after reading two online articles in quick succession. The first was The New Yorker’s profile of Martha Nussbaum, a moral philosopher concerned with matters of human flourishing. The second was this piece on how much it costs to lose weight.

At forty-nine, more than half of my life is over. The best half, arguably. Have I flourished?

Well, the first fourteen or so years were only okay, most of the time. There were certainly times when I flourished. Occasionally, this flourishing was ecstatic; most of the time it was just adequate. This is probably true of my twenties, too. Then there were about three years in my thirties and five in my forties that really were not very nice at all. Rounding up to fifty (because time flies), let’s say that it adds up to about twenty crappy years and thirty okay-to-good ones. The twenty had some good stretches, and the thirty had many bad bits. Still, for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that the inconsistencies on each side cancel the other out.

Having performed this calculation, I hereby inform life, the government, and the global economy that they owe me six okay-to-good years. That is the minimum amount necessary for me to be able to say that I have lived a flourishing life. And instead of taking an immediate settlement, I would like to bank those years for use after I retire (eighteen years from now).

From the perspective of The Present Moment, what I’m proposing is a good deal. It’s not as if the years leading up to retirement will all be good. The election of Donald Trump ensures that trouble lies ahead. On top of this, I have a child who will reach puberty in five or six years. I have one living parent and four siblings. I may one day have what the booklets in the oncologist’s examining room call “a recurrence.”

So, although I’ll do the best I can, it’s a safe bet that quite a few of the next eighteen years will fall on the negative side. If the government and the global economy were to guarantee me six good years of post-retirement life, there’s a very good chance they will still end up profiting from this deal.

Given this possibility, let me suggest a solution to current global deficits in human flourishing. It starts with a simple calculation like the one above, with all the upper-middle-class individuals in the first world making a personal tally of their Total Life-to-date Flourishing. Their TLF.

From this modest start, we might discover that we have quite a surplus of flourishing on our hands. Assuming the government and the global economy help us out a bit, I don’t see why we middle-class first-worlders can’t pool all our extra pieces of the good life and redistribute them to the world’s less flourishing peoples. I’m no philosopher, but surely that would make everything okay.

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