The Daring Idea of Happiness as GDP

Sep 06 2010 Published by under Featured News, Issues

Nic Marks Suggests We Are Measuring GDP All Wrong

Happiness Wins for Labor; It’s a question of productivity versus happiness as judge of welfare of nations. Yes, this is an argument for a socially just Democracy, or as I like to call it, civilization.

Nic Marks must surely be a socialist. At TEDGlobal 2010 he suggested that we would be better off to measure success by happiness rather than productivity. Cue the crazy jihad nut job dance from the Right (plus a Glenn Beck cry fest), but meanwhile, I ask you on this Labor Day, have you ever been to a country where they valued overall contentment of the people over their productivity?

Because once you’ve seen that in action, it’s hard to deny the validity of Marks’ inspiration.

Nic Marks of the New Economics Foundation, an independent think tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well being, spoke at TED Global 2010 during which he posited that we should use the happiness of the people as the measure of success rather than their productivity. Kinda like we were humans and not machines. Huh.

Marks, who undertakes innovative research in the use of well-being indicators in public policy environments, further suggested that success could be tracked using the Happy Planet Index, which tracks national well being against resource usage, because good lives don’t have to cost the earth. But I am focusing on his daring pronouncement that we are measuring GDP incorrectly.

Naturally, minds are blowing all across America and Republicans are getting ready to charge Marks with treason, if only they could. Marks is British. Those damn Brits. It never ends with them.

Video courtesy of NewEconomics.Org:

Marks: “As early as 1968, this visionary man, Robert Kennedy, at the start of his ill-fated Presidential campaign, gave the most eloquent deconstruction of gross national product that ever has been. And he finished his talk with the phase, “The gross national product measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.”

And here, for your viewing pleasure, because there’s nothing like a quick shot of Kennedy on Labor Day:

Marks: “How crazy is that that the measure of our progress, our dominant measure of society is measuring If Kennedy were alive today, he would be asking statisticians such as myself to go out and find out what makes life worth while, he’d be asking us to redesign our national accounting system, to be based upon such important things like social justice, sustainability, and people’s well being.

And actually, social scientists have asked these questions around the world. This is from a global survey. It’s asking people what do they want. And unsurprisingly, people all around the world say that what they want is happiness for themselves, their families, their children and their communities.”

Now, see, the code word here is “community”. I think it’s only fitting to insert your basic George Soros conspiracy theory right here since, you know, communities are bad. Communities lead to community organizers, and we all know how Jesus feels about them.

But first, before the freak out, we must question why we measure success as a nation by our productivity. Marks talks about the EU’s history, but in America, where we value what we achieve and produce, it’s in our blood. It’s the capitalist way. Without putting such emphasis on productivity, and selling it as the only goal worthy of achieving, we might have a nation of happy slackers and that would surely not make us a superpower.

Who can forget Ronald Reagan on September 29, 1981 saying, “We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefiting from their success — only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free. Trust the people. This is the one irrefutable lesson of the entire postwar period contradicting the notion that rigid government controls are essential to economic development.”

This is the argument of the far right Capitalists, but they never tell you about the specialized labor that took off from American companies — to better pastures, so to speak. Places where they might have a life as well and be treated like humans. With them, they took the infusion of investment into research and development, in other words, hope for maintaining American exceptionalism. Yeah, the very thing the far Right is angry at the rest of America for admitting we may no longer have. This is called denial of the failure of an ideology and it’s not healthy or productive…but I digress.

Before the Global Recession bought on by the Bush economic policies which started to become apparent in 2007, these economists made the argument that America stayed ahead, was a superpower, because of our capitalist ideals. When you brought up the enhanced quality of life of Europeans, for example, you were told that they were going to pay for it by becoming economic failures. We were told it was unsustainable. However, when the recession hit, it did not take the “evil socialist loving countries” like France first. Or Germany, where Huffington Post reports:

“High taxes, heavy regulation, powerful unions and a big welfare state are turnoffs for pretty much any true blue (and especially red) American, but they are also the four cornerstones that have led Germany to its strongest quarter in 20 years.”

Heavy regulation and a welfare state infer that government is playing a large role in German economic success. They also tend to play a role in a more satisfied people. Germans have four to six weeks paid vacation a year, 35 hour work weeks and no issues with healthcare costs. As workers, they are valued and represented at the table with management.

Ezra Klein at The Washington Post explained, “Germany’s growth numbers look pretty good right now: If the next three quarters are as robust as their last quarter, growth will be almost 9 percent next year. And they think they know why: their stimulus, which focused on keeping workers in their jobs rather than generating new jobs that newly unemployed workers could apply for. “A vast expansion of a program paying to keep workers employed, rather than dealing with them once they lost their jobs, was the most direct step taken in the heat of the crisis,” reports the New York Times.

Tyler Cowen agrees with the Germans on this one: “In a highly specialized modern economy, it is much easier to prevent jobs from being destroyed than to create them again, at least assuming those are ‘good’ jobs in the first place,” he writes. As I remember, the stimulus got mocked for focusing on jobs “created or preserved,” but a job preserved is simply better than a job created: It’s usually higher-wage, the worker is better at it, and the worker doesn’t have to stop being productive for awhile.”

And shockingly to our laissez-faire free market capitalists here, this is working as an economic model. In fact, it’s doing better than our model of wild bill only-the-super-rich-get-anything policy. (It should be noted that Germany has very complicated citizenship policy, which protects it economically in terms of the sustainability of services provided by the government. It’s true, Dorothy, we can’t have everything.) It seems not only are the workers treated well, but the society as a whole benefits, including with a more secure economy. Hmmm. This flies in the face of all we are told/sold.

So the question becomes, what kind of society do we want to be?

We’ve been brainwashed to not even consider such a thing as a valid goal. We are taught that discipline in the form of working (preferably in your own small business) for 18 hours a day topped off by a two hour gym routine is the ticket to happiness. This kind of schedule leaves no time for the things in life which bring us joy. Marks dares to intimates that the ultimate goal of every nation on the planet should be to have happy and healthy lives.

Can you imagine if a political party ran on such a notion in America? Say, the Democratic Party. The sheer madness of it!

Happiness indeed. We can’t have that.

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