Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘sustainable economic growth

In Pursuit of happiness? How to go about learning and practicing Happiness?

Robert Costanza, Professor of Sustainability and the Director for the Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) at Portland State University, published this account:

“I recently returned from a trip to Bhutan, a small Himalayan country. The enlightened former king had declared that the goal of his country’s policy was “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) rather than “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP).

GDP is the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given period. But GDP was never intended as a measure of well-being or progress. It only measures national income or activity, and it includes only those goods and services traded for money. It also adds everything together, without differentiating between desirable, well-being-enhancing economic activity and undesirable, well-being-reducing activity.

For example, an oil spill increases GDP because someone has to clean it up, but it obviously detracts from well-being. More crime, more sickness, more war, more pollution, more fires, storms and pestilence are all potentially positives for GDP because they can cause an increase in economic activity.

I say “former king” for two reasons. The first reason is because he passed the crown on to his son. The second is because neither he nor his heir now govern as absolute monarchs. In what must be the first time in recorded history, the king had to convince his subjects (in the face of real opposition) that democracy was a better way.

After a very interesting and unique transition, Bhutan is now a constitutional monarchy – much like the United Kingdom – where the king has mainly ceremonial duties.

The new Prime Minister, Lyonchoen Jigme Y Thinley, and the elected government have set up a “Gross National Happiness Commission” (GNHC) to implement the process of both measuring GNH and ensuring that the country’s policies are aimed at improving it. They have undertaken surveys of GNH and developed a GNH policy screen. National policies include the goal to become the first country to produce only organic food, and to be a net carbon dioxide sink in perpetuity.

Why are the Bhutanese not getting on the bandwagon that GDP growth is the solution to all problems? They recognise that, while traditional economic growth has in the past been a major means to improving social well-being, it is now causing at least as many problems as it solves. GDP growth strategy is no longer sustainable: It is pushing us beyond the planet’s environmentally safe operating space. It is also not always desirable because it only contributes to improved well-being up to a point.

We need a new approach to economic progress that takes into account the hidden costs of traditional growth, on jobs, on families, on society, on nature, and ultimately on our happiness and quality of life and its sustainability.

GDP  takes no account of how the national income is distributed among people, ignoring the fact that a dollar’s worth of income produces more well-being for a poor person than a rich one.

Alternative measures of progress, like the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), adjust for these problems with GDP to arrive at a better approximation of “national well-being”. Results show that while the US GDP has steadily increased since 1950 (with the occasional recession), GPI peaked around 1975 and has been relatively flat or declining ever since.

So what do the Bhutanese mean by GNH? Bhutan recently completed a survey of 8,000 of its citizens, asking them over 200 questions about various aspects of their lives and how satisfied they are with them. It is what social scientists call an assessment of “subjective well-being”, or SWB – an area of research that is getting increasing attention in many quarters of science and policy as part of the emerging “science of happiness”.

In the US, for example, SWB surveys show flat or dropping scores over the last several decades, consistent with the flattening GPI estimates.

But the GNHC and others in Bhutan recognise that there are other, more objective elements that are also important in assessing their country’s overall well-being. Our team was brought in to help incorporate “natural capital” and the ecosystem services it provides into their national accounting framework.

Ecosystem services are the often un-accounted for benefits that people derive from nature – clean air, water, and soil, a stable climate, recreational and spiritual opportunities to connect with nature, and many more. We estimated in a previous study that, on a global basis, these services were worth in aggregate more than all of global GNP combined.

But these services do not yet adequately appear in any country’s national accounts.  Bhutan sees itself as a leader in rectifying this situation. We held a workshop there last March with over 40 representatives from several government agencies, universities and others to assess how best to do this.

We plan to hold a series of follow-up workshops involving students and faculty from the US working with the Bhutanese to help them become a model of sustainable well-being and to help us do the same.

We all have a lot to learn from Bhutan. They are a small county not yet addicted to economic growth in the conventional sense. They can step back and ask the really important questions: What is happiness? How do we best pursue it? How does one person’s happiness depend on everyone else’s? How important is nature to our happiness and its sustainability? How much and what types of material consumption do we really need to be happy?

The founders of the United States also asked themselves many of these same questions. They set up a country devoted to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Bhutan is helping us to better understand the interdependence of all life on earth, the responsibilities that come with individual liberty, and the meaning and measure of happiness.

These are issues we will all have to collaboratively grapple with and better understand if we hope to create a world where humanity can flourish, and be happy within the finite boundaries of the amazing planet we inhabit.” End of quote

I loved the two decisions of focusing on producing organic food, and insuring a net carbon dioxide sink in perpetuity.  These two decisions, if applied consistently, can become cornerstone behavioral change to improving quality of health.

Bhutan is situated upstream of rivers thus, it should be able to provide clear water.  For example, if Bhutan was situated beneath a river polluted by a “developed” State such as China or India, then Bhutan would have hard time securing the necessary funds for the perpetual clean up job.  Bhutan is also in a high-mountain region, thus securing clear air quality must be less costly than in coastal regions.  The main question remains: If States have no such natural conditions as Bhutan, how could they achieve  “Gross National Happiness” (GNH), if they decide to implement their programs?  Shouldn’t the UN reserve a special fund for poor States that decided to implement such programs for clean potable water, and cleaner air quality?

My first question is: “Where does Bhutan rank on the UN Human Development Indicators (HDI)? For example, infantile mortality, early birth mortality, education literacy…?” In a previous article, I mentioned that poor Bangladesh (half India GNP per person) is better ranked than India on HDI (see note).  Clean water, clean air, and organic food production can reduce drastically health problems, but work habits, archaic customs, and social structure (religiously enslaving sections of the citizens to serving the higher classes) need to be revised in order to increasing Human Development Indicators. Analyzing Bhutan social conditions may give indications for the success of this beautiful program.

My second question is: “What rules may a citizen learn to apply in order to “materialize a state of happiness?”  In a previous article, I mentioned that learning to “Process one idea at a time, then resolve one problem at a time” is the golden pragmatic technique to learning “How  to become happy in life”.  If we learn how to be happy, we surely can then learn how to be successful in our community:  A state of happiness is highly contagious.

Note: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/development-is-in-human-rights-indicators-comparing-india-and-bangladesh/


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September 2020
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