Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Gross National Happiness

President Sarkozy of France has proposed “Gross National Happiness” as an alternate measure to GDP in measuring progress of a nation. He was releasing the report of a study he had commissioned by two Nobel Laureates – Jospeh Stiglitz and Amartya Sen - on this subject.

Now even for the flamboyant Sarkozy this is something. Presumably it is an attempt to push the French higher up on the world rankings as 35 hour week, August month long holidays, fine wine and such other niceties contribute to happiness, but perhaps not to GDP.

This is not a new concept. The world leader in this is Bhutan – its former King was the originator of the idea and Bhutan has been adopting this for many years now. Click here for the Bhutanese logic of this – it makes an impressive read. The trouble is 99% of the world population cannot point to Bhutan on a map. Therefore it remained as an isolated concept which the irrepressible Sarkozy has caught on to.

Of course there are many problems with GDP. A common criticism is that it does not measure anything which is not paid for – for example a stay at home mom running the house and bringing up kids does not contribute to GDP, but if a nanny or a maid was employed for the same purpose, it does. Sure GDP can be improved, but the problem is one of doing it in an objective manner that can be followed by every country in the world. The current definition may be having holes, but at least its objectively measurable.

The new assessment will reportedly include figures relating to work-life balance, recycling, household chores and even levels of traffic congestion. Now how on earth do you measure such stuff from Andorra to Zimbabwe ?

Despite all the rhetoric of Sarkozy, this is unlikely to catch on. And in any case Monsieur le President needs to be wary. It is by no means certain that France will be higher up on the table of Gross National Happiness than it is on GDP. God Forbid – it may even be demoted to the ranks of the developing countries in the “GNH rankings”. And surely there will be war if French wine’s contribution to GNH scored lower than that of the Napa Valley in the US !!


Adesh Sidhu said...

Where will India stand. I guess babus will be happiest creatures in the world :-)

JS said...

Never knew this about Bhutan. It apparently ranked 8th worldwide in ranking of happy countries and India was 125 :-(


thethoughtfultrain said...

Interesting ... :-) My opinion is that GNH is not easy to measure either, probably even harder than GDP. We are better off refining GDP than GNH.

athivas said...

Thanks for the loads of information:)Bhutan was a news!!

If GNH is to be standardized, most countries which boast themselves to be among the 'developed' and 'developing' will be nowhere near their ranking, won't they?

That was a beautiful comparison between the Stay at home mom and nanny contributing to GDP.
I have always wondered if SAHMs are to be paid, what would be their pay package? Still happy there are certain things(people,emotions) money cannot buy! :)

A journey called Life said...

interesting, never heard of this before..

Srivats said...

quite a interesting concept Sarkozy always amuses us with such things :) yes its really hard to measure , and more often it becomes like a relative grading system :P

Srivats said...

Thanks for your wishes in my latest post, I am touched ramesh :)

Ramesh said...

@Adesh - Babus ? NO. They're an unhappy lot - how can they be happy doing all that dumb stuff :)

@JS - Thanks for the interesting link. I suppose happiness is a state of mind - for eg in China, where I am , they equate wealth with happiness - so the Bhutan example would not work here at all.

@ savitha - There are many things money can't buy indeed.

@AJCL :)

@Sri - politicians are usually such a boring lot - it takes a colourful character like Sarkozy to stir things up a bit.

@thoughtful train - when did you become boring and practical like me instead of your usual evocative self ??

Sandhya Sriram said...

As long as measurement of GNH is not with the media channels who calculate viewership ratios (based on a sample of some 2% household extra-polating - national statistics) - i think it would still be worth while to measure this for whatever it is worth

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Oh yes - give it in the hands of the media and you'll have a circus. The problem with anything like happiness is that it means complately different things to different people. For eg the French consider leisure as important to happiness ; the Chinese consider work as more importnat. Who is to say who's right .

Exkalibur666 said...

Another survey found Costa Rica to be the happiest country in the world..holding true to its name is costa rica...which means rich coast..CR plans to be the first carbon neutral country by 2021.

The survey also says India and China were happier and greener 20 yrs ago than they are now.


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