Following is a note from Phil Done, a reader and regular commentator at this blog:
“A recurrent theme on the blog in the great battles of good versus evil is that that free markets are wonderful efficient mechanisms and economic growth is a good thing. But is a big fat Gross National Product the meaning to life.
Does the GNP represent the environment, our heritage, our culture and our true happiness?
The New Economist reports:
“The hippies, the Greens, the road protesters, the downshifters, the slow-food movement – all are having their quiet revenge. Routinely derided, the ideas of these down-to-earth philosophers are being confirmed by new statistical work by psychologists and economists.
First, surveys show that the industrialised nations have not become happier over time. Random samples of UK citizens today report the same degree of psychological well-being and satisfaction with their lives as did their (poorer) parents and grandparents. In the US, happiness has fallen over time. White American females are markedly less happy than were their mothers.
Second, using more formal measures of mental health, rates of depression in countries such as the UK have increased. Third, measured levels of stress at work have gone up.
Fourth, suicide statistics paint a picture that is often consistent with such patterns. In the US, even though real income levels have risen sixfold, the per-capita suicide rate is the same as in the year 1900. In the UK, more encouragingly, the suicide rate has fallen in the last century, although among young men it is far greater than decades ago.
Fifth, global warming means that growth has long-term consequences few could have imagined in their undergraduate tutorials.
None of these points is immune from counter-argument. But most commentators who argue against such evidence appear to do so out of intellectual habit or an unshakeable faith in conventional thinking.
Some of the world’s most innovative academics have come up with strong evidence about why growth does not work. One reason is that humans are creatures of comparison. Research last year showed that happiness levels depend inversely on the earnings levels of a person’s neighbours. Prosperity next door makes you dissatisfied. It is relative income that matters: when everyone in a society gets wealthier, average well-being stays the same.
A further reason is habituation. Experiences wear off. …Those who become disabled recover 80 per cent of their happiness by three years after an accident. Yet economics textbooks still ignore adaptation.
A final reason is that human beings are bad at forecasting what will make them happy. In laboratory settings, people systematically choose the wrong things for themselves.”
Economic theory has a concept called utility. If I give you $1M you’ll be really happy. $2M even happier. But as you go up with incremental millions your happiness does not keep increasing linearly. It tails off (except for Joe).
Most people of course don’t get off the linear part of the curve -like me!
But it’s more than that – our decisions need other values than economics built in.
Led by its young king, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the kingdom of Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure its wellbeing by Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross National Product (GNP). This unorthodox approach is a serious attempt to question the values of unbridled economic progress, and foreground the importance of maintaining a balance between tradition and modernisation. Bhutan has followed a cautious path of development since the 1960s, with the intention of preserving its heritage and culture and protecting its environment.
GNH is an official policy of the kingdom, having been passed in parliament, and it is perhaps best illustrated by some examples from Bhutan which prove that happiness really does take precedence over economic prosperity there. The country limits the number of tourists that are able to visit it, because the Bhutanese had complained that the environment was being affected and sacred lands were being spoiled. The limiting was therefore aimed at increasing the ‘happiness’ of these people. Similarly, demonstrating that the concept of GNH is inextricably connected to accountability, anyone with a grievance can go to the king himself and get a hearing.
The policy of GNH, as well as focusing on cultural promotion and good governance, also aims to put an end to ‘spiritual hunger’. Material and technological progress is not rejected or banned, but it must not be to the detriment of the value of human life, and humanity’s soul. So the new policy has a spiritual aspect to it, as well as an eminently sensible accountability aspect. Mental and psychological wealth are genuine considerations in Bhutan. Happiness is more important than monetary wealth.
Should we in Australia replace the GNP with the GNH?
Or even better Ian Mott should enshrine the GNH as the prime statistic for the new happy state of Tropicana.
I reckon this blog being the innovative forum that it is (this obsequious grovelling should stop me getting deleted for a week) could lead a national revolution on use of the GNH. We could use it as a mediating concept in environmental disputes. No more taking greenies to court or chaining yourself in front of bulldozers – we would simply use a GHM (global happiness model) to optimise a mutually compatible and happy solution using multiple ensemble runs to explore the happiness chaos space under a variety of future happiness growth scenarios using a model of appropriate happiness sensitivity.
We would ask Ian Castles as the special envoy representing the stats office as a post-retirement fellow (having sorted out those SRES chappies and feeling very happy) to conduct a “basket of goods” type survey on happy indicators. You wouldn’t ask the Land and Water Audit or the IPCC as happiness might be going up when they tell you it’s going down?
Maybe happiness is affected urban heat islands? Would Warwick Hughes be happy with our happiness measurements? Would Louis insist there was an abiotic theory of happiness? Could Motty define happiness on the back of envelope. Would Ender insist on renewable happiness. And would Thinksy explore the inner semantic nature of happiness. Joe would be happy trading derivatives in higher happiness. If all else fails – Detribe could implant us with genetically engineered happiness.
And you would have to compensate for Rog being happy to be unhappy.