Happiness and Economics
The king of Bhutan proposed in 1972 a new concept for measuring economic performance. He called it the “General National Happiness” GNH, as opposed to the generally acceptable economic concept of Gross National Product GNP.
Bhutan is a small nation near the Himalayas, surrounded by China, India and Bangladesh. It population is about one million, and its area is 14,800 square kilometers. Its GNP is US$ 2.2 Billion, and its per capita income is US$ 2,830. It is similar to the smaller Countries in the Gulf, but is poor.
However, what it lacks in wealth, it more than makes up in happiness. It ranks the eighth among the world’s 178 countries in the “Happiness Index”. And it is the only poor country in the top twenty happy countries.
The King’s novel ideas were ignored by the arrogant affluent developed world. Their language is that of Mammon – Money, not humane mumbo-jumbo. Nevertheless, the King persisted with his ideas and incorporated them into his five-year development plans.
With the passage of time, and with all the political and economic disasters and tragedies that befell the world since 1972, thinkers, economists and social scientists began to reconsider his ideas. His concepts started to gradually infiltrate development thought, and by 2005, The International Institute of Management had developed similar hybrid theories. Soon, other scientific bodies got in-on the act and by 2011, the UN had adopted the concept and incorporated it into its Development Programs. Many other countries followed suite, including Dubai in 2014.
The King of Bhutan summarized his philosophy of happiness as follows: “It signifies simply – Development with Values. Thus for my nation today GNH is the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth.”
The Gross National Happiness concept rests on four main tenets:
1) Sustainable development.
2) Preservation and promotion of cultural values.
3) Conservation of the natural environment.
4) Good governance.
Despite the practical success of this “Happiness” concept, there remain many dissidents, who obstinately insist that it is unacceptable because “happiness” cannot be quantified, and hence it becomes difficult to compare countries. The best answer to that is: “Why is comparison a must? Happiness is a personal state, let each nation be happy in its own way!”
Also, let us not forget that Economics, itself, is far from being an exact science – despite what many economists wish to believe. The GNP concept, which is a major measure of macroeconomic performance is not free from mortal weakness, especially when measuring human well-being. A blatant example is the calculation of GNP, where we may include expenses spent on industry that destroys the environment, on medical procedures that fail, or even on destructive wars…etc., thus inflating the size of the GNP and then smugly claim that our economy is growing! And that we are developed.
Alas, it is long and twisted path between happiness resulting from “exuberant consumption” and that arising from inner and spiritual joy not dependent on greed and waste.