David Cameron launched his ” Happiness Index ” today as he claimed the Treasury would from now on measure peoples’ quality of life as well as industrial expansion (known as the Gross Domestic Product – GDP). Starting next April, the Office for National Statistics will endeavour to build a database to measure the important areas which are most important to peoples’ lives and general welfare – like health, levels of education, inequalities in earnings and the environment.
The happiness index is a reaction to the recommendations of two Nobel prize winning economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, who recently advised world leaders to measure their country’s much more intangible progress in other areas, instead of just GDP.
Studies have already done leading to reports that the happiness index of the lowest income groups (below $10,000), may rise noticeably, but would remain the most unhappy group among the various income groups (in one example at 66.6 cf 70.6 for the entire sample) for many years.
The happiness index rises in proportion to the improvement of people’s incomes. Therefore, the government has a lot to do. Where the happiness index has already been adopted in some cities it has been used to assess the city’s performance using five important people-first factors. These include access to medical care, improved housing conditions, quality of the environment, employment opportunities and public security.
Mr Cameron is reported to have denied criticism that his plan was “airy-fairy and impractical”. He said: “If I thought this was woolly and insubstantial, I wouldn’t be bothering with it. To those who say this sounds like a distraction from the serious business of government, I say finding out what will improve lives and acting on it is the serious business of government”.
The Happiness Index, as interpreted elsewhere, is reported to have suggested that the United States is ranked 150 out of 178, just ahead of the Ivory Coast and just behind Lithuania. Clearly, very few people would agree with that as immigration application statistics for the US would confirm.
According to the survey the top 10 positions are dominated by Latin American countries, whereas African countries lie at the bottom of the list. The first calculation was performed in 2006, and the second version measures happiness for almost all the countries in the world.
GDP measures what we make, but cannot measure what we destroy to make it. Our economy is borrowing prodigiously from the natural economy but without recording the loans. Gross Domestic Product, measures the value of output produced within a country over a 12-month period. It is this figure which we use to see how much the economy is growing (or shrinking).
When Mr Cameron took over the leadership of the Conservative Party he intended to make his party more diverse, more optimistic and greener. When, two years into his tenure, the recession changed the entire political landscape, Mr Cameron had to sacrifice much of his agenda to the economic determinism of George Osborne. This can be seen as part of his determination to be innovative and somehow stamp his own mark on his tenure as Prime Minister.
In this he is not entirely alone from the other side of the bench either, although such support only came with a counterbalancing compliant. This was when Liam Byrne, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “We will support any work to improve quality of life, but it is a great irony that a Government doing so much to spread pessimism and is making it harder for people to get on is going to start measuring wellbeing.”