UK begins tentative move to measure happiness as well as GDP

It was encouraging this morning to read in the Guardian the news that the UK Government is making plans to measure national happiness as well as gross national product.

Read the article

This is certainly to be encouraged.  It was back in March, 1968 that Robert Kennedy so eloquently made the case for the need to end our dependency on such measures such as GDP and GNP:

“We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missles and nuclear warheads…. It includes… the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children. “And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America — except whether we are proud to be Americans.”

On my MSc at Schumacher, I studied a module called “The Economics of Happiness” and was taught by both Nic Marks and Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation.  For many years now, they (and in particular Nic) have been developing alternative economic indicators, and have developed the Happy Planet Index.  This certain sets out to include a measure of national happiness, but in addition it also sets out to measure the ecological footprint of each nation, i.e. how much of the planet’s resources are required to achieve that particular level of happiness.  It is no good people being happy if the cost is destruction of the planet and its eco systems.

I would encourage you to find out more here.

There is of course going to be an inevitable backlash, and this article in The Telegraph by Andrew Haldenby is typically illustrative.

Haldenby makes the very pertinent point that there is no link between happiness and wealth.

Economists such as Paul Ormerod here and Jason Potts in Australia have shown that this so-called science doesn’t add up. There is actually no scientific relationship at all between the “happiness” that we report in surveys and the state of the economy.

Indeed, once people achieve a certain level of economic prosperity, but then he demonstrates his lack of understanding about what exactly it is that these indicators show.  No one wishes to keep people poor of course, but if we can have the conscious awareness that our fixation with material wealth far beyond our means is all that matters, then we may be able to finally develop a more rounded definition of wealth that includes the quality of our relationships, the quality of our environment, and our ability to really achieve a high state of happiness with far less destructive lifestyles.

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