Remember America the Beautiful? It’s still there, but many of us work too long and hard to have any time left over to go see it.

If we shift our point of view from one where we put cold economic numbers at the center to one where we center warm, quality-of-life values, we can improve the output from all the formulas.

Without the ability to negotiate for living wages and working conditions, far too many people have to grind away at two or three jobs.

A growing number of seniors are having to give up their dream of retirement to stay in the work force. And when we compare ourselves to other countries, Americans are working more and more hours, and taking fewer and fewer vacation days, but are still not getting ahead.

Trying to make the old models work, where a person is a “rational agent” who aims to optimize economic value, has not led us to the promised land, so to speak.

The quest to be the wealthiest nation has led us to sink to 19th in a ranking of happiness from 2021.

It has also led us to the Great Resignation. True, the stress of the pandemic accelerated our movement toward that breaking point, but it was coming just the same.

There is a better option, though, and it builds on the renewed spirit in this country of reclaiming our time, setting aside our quest for things as simple as the highest-paying job.

Rather than setting goals around jobs and employment and having the media focus on all the ways to re-analyze whether we are optimizing those metrics or not, I think we should set goals addressing quality of life.

I do not think it’s in our country’s best interest to have everyone doing work that is not fulfilling and does not enrich our community.

In an ideal economy, no one seeking work would be unable to cover their expenses, but the highest priority of a macroeconomic policy must put people first and provide stability for people to live enriching lives.

I have deep concerns about how we value humans in our country and how it contrasts with many other countries in which quality of life is the foremost factor when determining the success of an economy.

I would like to see the United States rebalance our priorities toward economically beneficial policies that put the quality of our lives above the profit of companies and above the need to create economic value for the sake of creating economic value.

That old game of economic power and wealth is a zero-sum game, which means for one to win, others have to lose. It is built into the fabric of such games that there will always be conflict and loss.

The game of working instead at increasing happiness is not a zero-sum game. In that game, your neighbors winning, or your trading partners, or even people on the other side of the aisle, can be compatible with you winning as well.

If we can set aside the failed paradigm based on conflict and the scramble to hoard the most resources or the most money, then we can open up opportunities to actually see the purple mountains’ majesties and the amber waves of grain or to road trip cross country from sea to shining sea.

We live in the most beautiful country in the world, but far too many of us don’t have the time or the money to go see it.

That feeling of a shared land, and a shared country, used to be a source of pride, and it used to help us feel like people all across America had a common ground — literally.

We should start changing our priorities and our policies so we can reclaim that.

Erik Richardson is an MU alum and a freelance writer.


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