Happiness, not just economics, is the real measure

Happiness, not just economics, is the real measure

A Nobelist Joins Those Pursuing Well-Being Over Growth

By Andrew C. Revkin

A Nobel laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz, has joined the circle of economists convinced that the world needs  new ways of measuring progress as  human numbers and appetites butt up against the planet_ã_s limits and old economic models have  hit some speed bumps.

In  The Financial Times yesterday, Dr. Stiglitz, who teaches at Columbia University, outlined the results of  a study he and other economists conducted for President Nicolas Sarkozy of France providing advice on a basket of measurements that might better reflect whether a country is advancing the quality of lives while not diminishing the environment.  Mr. Sarkozy embraced the findings and called on France_ã_s econometric bureaucracy to shift how it assesses progress and on world leaders and international institutions to do the same.

Dr. Stiglitz_ã_s column on the report echoes many ideas promoted by a more touchy-feely crowd that has long been pushing for such shifts, a group whose members range from  Herman Daly to Jigmi Thinley, whom I met while writing my 2005 article on _ã– gross national happiness_㝠and is  Bhutan_ã_s first elected prime minister.

Here_ã_s a set of statements, one by the Nobel laureate and one by Mr. Thinley, who is one of Bhutan_ã_s leading promoters of what the country calls G.N.H. [UPDATE, 3 pm: I had these statements transposed earlier. Fixed now. Apologies!]

Dr. Stiglitz: _ã–While there is no single indicator that can capture something as complex as our society, the metrics commonly used, such as gross domestic product, suggest a trade-off: one can improve the environment only by sacrificing growth. But if we had a comprehensive measure of well-being, perhaps we would see this as a false choice._ã

Mr. Thinley:
_ã–We have to think of human well-being in broader terms. Material well-being is only one component. That doesn_ã_t ensure that you_ã_re at peace with your environment and in harmony with each other._ã

And here is a statement by Dr. Stiglitz paired with one by the Canadian political philosopher John Ralston Saul from my 2005 happiness article:

Dr. Stiglitz: _ã–What we measure affects what we do. If we have the wrong metrics, we will strive for the wrong things._ã

Mr. Saul: _ã–It_ã_s ideas which determine the directions in which civilizations go. If you don_ã_t get your ideas right, it doesn_ã_t matter what policies you try to put in place._ã

For this concept to move beyond Bhutan and France and take hold in a country like the United States, politicians would have to get comfortable with the public_ã_s paying more attention to things like rates of infant mortality, amounts of vacation time, access to health care and rates of imprisonment along with rates of job creation and economic growth.

In reporting my 2005 happiness article, officials at the Census Bureau told me that lawmakers in Congress didn_ã_t seem eager to pay for efforts to broaden the way the bureau assesses quality of life. Could it be that elected officials are afraid of what such a shift might reveal?