Our Happy Planet

I thought it would be a good idea to start off my new GP blog with an entry on happiness and something that makes me happy – maps. Take a look at this map:

This is how the world would look like if we measure countries according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI). The HPI was set up by the New Economics Foundation in 2006, and it indicates the efficiency with which a country converts the earth’s finite resources into the well-being of its citizens. The 3 components of the Index are: life satisfaction, life expectancy, and ecological footprint.

Most of us who take Economics as a subject are familiar with the concept of using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure a country’s progress. However, do you know that there is one country in the world who identifies and measures policies that maximise not GDP, but Gross National Happiness (GNH)? That country is the small, mountaineous country of Bhutan.

“There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, or joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings.” – John Ruskin, Unto This Last

According to an United Nations report, Bhutan is one of the world’s ten ‘least developed countries’. Yet, it has little signs of malnutrition, its people are well-clothed and there are no slums. From macro to micro, policy decisions are tested against their effect on the environment and society. Here are some examples:

1. The profitable timber export trade was closed down because it was discovered to be causing erosion of the hillsides.

2. No one may own more than 10% of a business.

3. Plastic bags are forbidden.

No doubt skeptics may say that this is possible because Bhutan is so small that the effects of changes and policies can be observed and modified. While this is true and it certainly has its share of problems, nonetheless, it is an unique crucible for testing how a society can select the best of modern life with being destroyed by global commercialism. This parallel way of thinking about economic development should set us thinking about what really matter in measuring the progress of a society: dollars and cents, or people and the planet?

How you can use this blog entry:

Paper 1 (Economics, Globalization, Poverty)

Paper 2 (AQ related to Happiness, Materialism)

Interesting points from this blog entry:

The richest countries may not be the happiest; there are other ways of measuring progress besides economic development; the world can look like a different place if we see it through a different lens.


~ by irwin on May 7, 2010.

One Response to “Our Happy Planet”

  1. Exported this comment by Fred T from the previous GP Blog:

    Another useful measure is the UNDP’s Human Development Index. For more on this, see: http://hdr.undp.org/en/

    It takes a more holistic measure of a country’s development compared to just GDP; it includes literacy, life expectancy etc. However, like any statistic, the HDI has its own limitations too.

    In a phrase that was attributed to former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli but which was popularized by Mark Twain, Twain observed that there are three kinds of lies – “lies, damned lies and statistics”. So no statistic, however comprehensive and representative, can be truly trusted. After all, not everything that can be counted counts for anything. And not everything that counts can be counted 🙂

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