Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sarkozy and Stiglitz on happiness, sustainability and social well-being

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is quoted as saying that he wants France to move beyond GDP measurements as the primary measure of economic welfare. Sarkozy wants to urge his Group of 20 counterparts to join him in what he calls “a great revolution” in which economic performance will be measured in terms of happiness, sustainability and social well-being.

Sarkozy is also quoted as saying, “The crisis not only makes us free to imagine other models, another world. It obliges us to.”

Sarkozy was responding to a report from a commission headed by Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz which called for measures of growth to be expanded to include concepts such as work-life balance, environmental sustainability and mental health.

One observation made in tha report is that “There often seems to be a marked difference between standard measures of socio-economic variables like growth...and widespread perceptions of these realities.”

Here is one observation of the GDP:

GDP is a basic measure of a country’s economic performance and is the market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of a nation in a year.

Revered for 60 years as a benchmark of performance, progress and prosperity, and referred to slavishly by politicians eager to point to a number going upwards, this measure of economic output has itself fallen on hard times, embarrassed by the crisis it failed to foretell and discredited by the large disconnect between the ‘growth’ it suggests and the grubbier realities of everyday life.

To put it bluntly, few people really trust GDP as a measure of anything any more. The fact that it has started rising again in most developed countries while millions struggle joblessly onwards merely underscores the point: GDP is anachronistic, a throwback to an era last century when the material privations of life meant it was important to know how much stuff we were producing.

Nowadays, it’s just a Grossly Dated Parameter. As one analogy puts it, measuring progress by calculating GDP is like measuring a person’s health purely through the amount of food he takes in.

Many leading economists have been suggesting this for years, but until now only one country — Bhutan — has moved to a more qualitative measure of life, incorporating factors as diverse as pollution, noise, serious illness, divorce rates and democratic freedoms into its assessment of social progress.

I fully and wholeheartedly support this move. There is so much neurosis building up in the modern urban human that is caused by GDP as the measure of the idea of success. The GDP measure may have contributed to a misplaced value system that extols materialism at the expense of true happiness.

Many of us know that GDP cannot measure the economic value of a home-making and parenting? Is it any wonder that these roles have been trivialised in urban living?

How many people do you know have expressed a belief that they would be better off (career-wise) without a spouse, children or ageing parents? That, I believe, is an attitude and value that can be traced back to the use of GDP as a measure of economic success.


donplaypuks® said...

It is not the fault of GDP but that of human beings.

Many will snatch at narrow statistics and extrapolate all kinds of silly hypotheses. At one time it was balance of payments, on another, a balanced budget and then later the number of telephones per thousand of population.

But, I have a great mistrust of the French ever since they capitulated to Germany in WW2 without putting up a decent fight!

I think we are seeing a kind of championing of laziness by the likes of Sarkozy where they decide how much they need to lead a comfy 3 day working week and then work backwards to how they can tax the remaining hardworking people to death to achieve it. Mainly because they can't compete with USA.

As you can see, this policy cannot work with its inbuilt 'logic' for disaster! Sarkozy wants to achieve Nirvana by spin and semantics!

No, happiness and well being cannot be measured by rabid capitalistic conspicuous consumption. It would be insane to do so; then all obese persons will be accepted as the most happy and healthy.

There is no short cut to success or happiness. Bring back hard work (7 hrs a day/5 days a week should suffice), thrift, proper secular education and teach the masses to invest for the long term. That might just about save us!

We are all of 1 race, the Human Race

walla said...

Inside the twurrnin' wheel of the day's economy, a motorist drove up to a petrol station. He handed over the car and stood by to watch his beemer being washed by the foreign workers. The fee was six ringgit. So irate was he with their work he gave them a verbal lashing before driving off without paying...

It is getting easier and easier to forget one's humanity. Those workers would have washed their umpteenth cars by the time it was his turn. They would have returned to their shanties after another long day's work, year in year out, where no one would have given them a kind word let alone a tip for having been born to a life of hardship without much education or opportunities except to do only menial work on vehicles they will never get the chance to sit in for even once in their entire lives. Their hands would have wrinkled and corroded from the cheap detergent they would have been given to use, the constant soaking in water, the baking, oxygen-sucking, heat of the afternoon sun, the remorseless lack of rest, the sweaty back-breaking toil, the hopelessness, the darkness of days ahead. On their pay, they would not have been able to afford enough proper sustenance and the little they make they will scrape to pay for that phone call home across the seas and lands just to hear familiar voices they have had to leave behind in order to eke a living in a faraway place even so considered much an improvement over the one they had come from. Those familiar voices and the fond heart-string pulling memories of the faces they hold are what provide the only balmy comfort to their bodies' tiredest sinews.

Yet this world has been made to measure success by material accumulation, status by the next high-performance obscenely priced, high carbon-footprinted machine, arrival in career by those significant titles, accompanying perks and high-nosed accoutrements of avarice and snootiness.

Leverage over ennoblement. That's the modus operandi of nobel-winning economics.

Amidst such barometers of the modern-world's progress, who then will remember what was said of the Penans of recent highlight? "They are a tolerant people who do not ask for more than what is enough."


If we flick a switch of the internet, we can easily find works of Eckardt Toller who had a sudden insight about the meaning of 'now'. Always looking forward to the next thrill or hype, we forget the 'now' of our lives and the importance of 'enough'.

Indeed, if we are bad enough, there is a prison which offers something to 'liberate' one from the real prison walls of life - the human mind:


walla said...

There seems to be a leveling effect in life. For some, something might happen at the point of getting it all together - like those who had put their life savings into those ponzi schemes only to find they will have nothing left for their grey years ahead just because the mind had preyed on visions of wealth built on the shaky stilts of financial data charbroiled beyond recognition.

For others, their excesses in the earlier years when they had thought they could escape retribution come back in forms which they can hardly recognize just to hurt them in the least expected places at the worst possible imaginable moment.

Is there a telling lesson in all this? Are the constructs of man from one end to the other of his edifice towards himself and his society reduced to atoms of insignificance before greater forces apparently operating by the dynamics of chance and accidental collocation of events?

Today, the question mark (cough) may rest on the concept of GDP, yet tomorrow the state of the world's climate, and yet another day something else, perhaps consciousness and reality themselves.

As life trickles to its inexorable end, perhaps the answer will dawn by itself, just as some days will surprisingly begin with a bird appearing from nowhere to perch on the window sill proudly to share its magically soulful composition that it has made up by its own effort to be a mozart of its own species....

And if it doesn't, so be it.

So it remains to 'plagiarise' a piece from reads as follows: is but a test, many answers not known, paths are made by walking, there is an unseen kindness somewhere, and inside each second, enough is given to be used for that second which will pass into another even as what has been given as enough will itself change..

how we try to make ourselves better people, and polish off the rough edges in our minds, hearts and behavior...these are the daily tasks we should set ourselves.. and in the process become a strength to others who are less able to climb out of their own difficulties in life.


(sh@#, it's from me)

walla said...

..and something just remembered, as fresh as it was first read in 1971..

"True happiness comes only to those who no longer ask of life that it shall yield them any of those personal goods that are subject to the mutation of time." (Bertrand Arthur William Russell)

tagskie said...

hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!