A French Twist On GDP

Sarkozy proposes measuring happiness.

sarkozyI’m starting to think that French President Sarkozy is a Sightline fan. Last week it was a killer carbon tax proposal; now it’s something else near and dear to our hearts: a national measure of happiness as a counterpoint to GDP.

Springboarding from a new report prepared by giants of the economics world, Sarkozy is calling for a more comprehensive view of economic well-being, one that puts human well-being in driver’s seat.

And he’s not alone:

U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel economics prize and a critic of free-market economists, co-authored the report.

“GDP is an attempt to measure one part of what is going on in our society which is market production. It is what I call GDP fetichism to think success in that part is success for the economy and for society,” he said.

Yep. Stiglitz’s point is obvious enough, really. The regular drumbeat of GDP—did it go up this quarter? does that mean the recession is over?—tends to drown out other measures of well-being. And that’s unfortunate because “the economy,” even when it’s narrowly defined as GDP, should probably exist to serve the interests of us human beings, and not the other way around.

Interestingly, while you might think France would score well on a national measure of happiness owing to the country’s cultural orientation toward leisure time and amenities, it turns out that according to at least one well-regarded study of world happiness levels, France fares poorly—substantially below the happiness levels found in the US and Canada.

Which, really, is all the more reason to measure happiness. If something untoward is happening, we need careful measurements of human well-being, not the bean-counting of GDP math.

Sightline has written a fair amount on this subject over the years. Find it all here.

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  1. Michelle says:

    Here’s something else worth mentioning from the report, as stated in the Seattle Times:”Attention should also be given to whether countries are over-consuming their economic wealth and DAMAGING THE ENVIRONMENT, the report says.”[Emphasis added.]

  2. Michelle says:

    PS: The Seattle Times quote is from the article that Eric linked to in his main post, above.Great article, great post. Vive La France! :-)–Michelle in Eugene, Oregon (Sightline and Seattle Times fan via the Internet.)

  3. Morgan says:

    There has been an interesting debate in the “real-world economic review” about happiness indicators and their policy usefulness.http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue49/Turton49.pdfhttp://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue46/JohnsOrmerod46.pdfOverall, I’m concerned that economists will try to apply happiness research with an analytical presumptuousness that feels similar to the way cost-benefit analysis has been deployed – that numbers are unbiased and can lead us toward ethical or even effective policy decisions.By the nature of the academic debate, I think this field will need a couple more decades before it’s ready.

  4. Kelly says:

    I believe the country of Bhutan has been using Gross National Happiness for a while now.

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