Tuesday, September 15, 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 !!