This morning I was sitting in conference listening to influential people talk about what the European Commission should do for the next five years, and I was struck with one overriding thought. All the questions posed were around how the Commission should be structured and how it could achieve its goal. No one questioned what that goal should be - there was absolute consensus that Europe's number one goal should be growth, competitiveness and jobs.
I think there's a piece of that conversation missing. I think we urgently need to talk about what kind of Europe we want to build, to have a more nuanced picture of where we want to get to. Yes, we want to encourage creative people to establish innovative companies that generate jobs - but to me there is more to it than that. We're not asking about the non-economic cost of that growth.
One of the things that has consistently rung true with me in my simple living journey is the basic tenet (gleaned I think from Thoreau) that the cost of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. This should apply in politics as much as when we declutter our wardobes. If we generate jobs at the cost of, for example, the health of citizens, or at the cost of our environment, or at the cost of a quality food chain, then have we really gained? How about if we generate growth and jobs by damaging the health and wellbeing of other parts of the world? I know it's very naive but I do think we should also try to ensure that our actions - and our policies - make the world a slightly better place rather than a slightly worse.
I know that these issues are not being overlooked. I'm aware of a lot of discussion and debate about investing in the future, in health, in environment, in education. I hear people making the point that some policies (such as investing in energy efficiency) are good for the environment and for competitiveness or growth. But I think we need to ask the question, and keep asking it.
This really reminded me of why I am trying to combine simple living with the career path I'm on. Much as simple living often seems to us a philosophy and a lifestyle for the countryside, for slow days in the garden and knitting on the porch and stew simmering on the porch, rather than for someone who is permanently attached to a smartphone, but I really believe that this is a lifestyle than can - should - must be compatible with all walks of life. More than that, I'd rather live in a country governed by people with an appreciation of the simple life than by people who aspire to ten bedrooms and a sports car. That's why I come back from work to hang laundry out on the balcony, wash dishes and cut up used clothes for patchwork.