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The History of Gross National Happiness


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Modern Origins of Happiness and Well-being Economics in Public Policy

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The History of Gross National Happiness

  1. 1. The History of Gross National Happiness Modern Origins of Happiness and Well-being Economics in Public Policy Mónica Correa Professor Universidad Dr. Rafael Belloso Chacín (URBE) (2015) Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), History | University of Zulia (LUZ) (2004 – 2013) Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Journalist | Dr. Rafael Belloso Chacin University (URBE) (2005 – 2010)
  2. 2. Abstract: This paper summarizes the historical evolution of happiness and wellbeing as a public policy in the past century. It examines key events and publications that led to an important scientific and policy change resulting in the integration of happiness and wellbeing as main elements of the global economic development agenda. The author traces the main sources and ideas behind this change by reviewing and comparing available literature on public policy innovations related to the subject matter. Historical Review From modern political history, one can see happiness emphasized as part of a political philosophy, when the phrase “pursuit of happiness”1 was used as an important human right in 1776 Declaration of Independence of the United States. However, happiness policy remained an abstract idea, with no specific or real legislative, scientific and economic implementation framework. Economists have been calling for an alternative proposal to the GDP economic growth model since 1930s. Simon Kuznet, one of GDP’s main authors was aware of its limitations when he stated that “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined by the GDP.”2 In 1979 the Fourth King of Bhutan King Jigme Wangchuck, coined the term “Gross National Happiness” by chance in 1979 during an interview in Bombay Airport when His Majesty said “We do not believe in Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness is more important.”3 The Gross National Happiness or (GNH) phrase was initially used as an off-hand remark to indicate the King’s lack of interest in western materialistic style of economic development and the preservation of Bhutan’s Buddhist culture. His government officials, later, enunciated the king’s GNH four pillars as: 1.Economic self-reliance 2. Cultural preservation 3. Environmental conservation and 4. Good governance.4 Although, the GNH phrase started as a clever play on words, it appeared to have led to a political movement. The critics of the King say that GNH was an isolationist and racist political philosophy that was marketed by well-meaning western economic scholars who did not know the political history and inadvertently changed the original meaning of GNH to something positive. The evidence they present is the actual policies of the government under the same King. The strongest arguments supporting the view against the original meaning of GNH is the translation of the GNH pillars of cultural preservation and good governance into ethnic cleansing and isolationist policies. The implementation of the GNH philosophy 1 Declaration of independence of the United States 2 Saint Luis Federal Reserve newsletter economics/uploads/newsletter/2013/PageOne0513.pdf 3 Fourth King of Bhutan King Jigme Wangchuck 4 Gross National Happiness Commission. Royal Government of Bhutan (2009). Tenth five year plan 2008-2013: p.31
  3. 3. was an anti-consumerism ideology that meant to limit exposure to western civilization that resulted in banning TVs and Jeans. 5 6 Over 100 thousand people or one sixth of the population of Bhutan of Nepalese origin and Hindu faith were expelled from the country because they “would not integrate with Bhutan’s Buddhist culture”7 8 9 Even after the evolution of GNH, Bhutanese still suffer from GNH cultural preservation policies. Women are pressured into wearing traditional dresses. 10 Good governance meant dictatorial monarch government at the time; it took the country about thirty years until 2008 to conduct its first democratic elections. The author of this paper agrees with the preceding criticism and analysis, however from a historical perspective, the GNH phrase has been referenced in key public policy innovation papers and its influence cannot be ignored. In fact, the most important paper to the development of happiness economics, IIM GNW / GNH 2005, cited the GNH phrase as the inspiration by its author. It is clear that Bhutan GNH philosophy has evolved over the last decade through the contribution of western and local scholars to a version that is more democratic and open. Therefore, probably, the more accurate historical reference is to mention the coining of the GNH phrase as a key event, but not the Bhutan GNH philosophy, because the philosophy as understood by western scholars is different from the philosophy used by the King at the time. The Beginnings of Scientific and Western Acceptance of GNH For about three decades, no real progress was made inside Bhutan, GNH became a formal policy in 2008 when it was included part of the constitution. In 2004 a GNH conference talked about implementing GNH, but none of the papers produced specific economic policies and econometric tool to help implement and measure happiness and wellbeing. The adage, “you cannot manage what you cannot measure” holds true when it comes to implementing a new happiness and wellbeing economic policy. The North American Breakthrough Most western economists considered the Bhutan GNH concept as touchy-feely until the introduction of the first scientific and secular GNH Index in 2005 (also known as GNW Index) by Med Jones, an American Economist at the International Institute of Management. This proposed econometric framework along 5 Bhutan: a land frozen in time 6 Bill Frelick. Bhutan's ethnic cleansing. 7 8 9 GNH and Unhappy People 10 Only ‘Ada Rachu’ defames GNH, degrades Women degrades-women/
  4. 4. with a secular global survey provided the first integrated public policy decision framework for measuring wellbeing and happiness. 11 The model allowed, for the first time, the translation of happiness vision into a measurement system that economists can use. Jones cited the inspiration for the paper the King’s GNH phrase. The working paper was followed by a policy white paper in 2006, by the same author calling for the implementation of GNW / GNH in the US. 12 The GNW / GNH paper was widely reference by high-level government officials and researchers in Europe, Africa and Asia.13 In the policy white paper, the international institute of management came up with a list of strategic recommendations: “The recommendations address six main public policy areas: Government, Economics, Work, Media, Education and Environment.” The main recommendation was that “The role of government should shift from managing economic growth to socioeconomic development. American public policy should shift its focus from: The standard of living to the quality of life; Material possessions to well-being (physical, mental, and material); Unsustainable economic development to sustainable environmental development; Consumerism to investment; Economic-driven education to socioeconomic-driven education”. The paper stated: “A new integrated qualitative and quantitative approach is needed to assist in the creation of a new socioeconomic development model to measure and monitor he development of the nation's most important asset - its people.” The paper presented a new first of a kind design the econometric framework as follows: “The metric measures the socioeconomic development by tracking seven development areas, including the nation's mental and emotional health. The metric value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following subjective and objective measures: Mental, Physical, Workplace, Economic, Environmental, Political and Social.” The European Adaptation In 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy started a similar initiative in France calling for the inclusion of happiness and well-being in the criteria for national governance policies. He commissioned two Nobel Laureates and a French Economist, Joseph Stiglitz Amartya Sen, and Jean Paul Fitoussi to develop a new framework for measuring happiness and well-being to overcome the limitation of GDP. The Commission is known as the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress (CMEPSP). It included 29 respected professors and researchers.14 CMEPSP came up with the following recommendations: “From production to well-being: Another key message, and unifying theme of the report, is that the time is ripe for our measurement system to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. And measures of well-being should be put in a context of sustainability. 11 Gross National Happiness / Wellbeing GNW Survey 12 Gross National Happiness and Wellbeing Policy White Paper 13 IIM Happiness Economics page 14 'Journal Editorial Report,' September 26, 2009 september-26-200.html
  5. 5. Despite deficiencies in our measures of production, we know much more about them than about well- being. Changing emphasis does not mean dismissing GDP and production measures. They emerged from concerns about market production and employment; they continue to provide answers to many important questions such as monitoring economic activity. But emphasizing well-being is important because there appears to be an increasing gap between the information contained in aggregate GDP data and what counts for common people’s well-being. This mean working towards the development of a statistical system that complements measures of market activity by measures centered on people’s well-being and by measures that capture sustainability… Well-being is multi-dimensional …the Commission has identified the following key dimensions that should be taken into account. At least in principle, these dimensions should be considered simultaneously: i. Material living standards; Health; Education; iv. Personal activities v. Political; vi. Social vii. Environment viii. Insecurity, of an economic as well as a physical nature. All these dimensions shape people’s well-being, and yet many of them are missed by conventional income measures. Objective and subjective dimensions of well-being are both important” 15 When comparing the message, language, and recommendations of IIM GNW of 2005 with CMEPSPS report of 2009, one can find they are almost identical. This validated the importance of the National Wellbeing and Happiness in public policy, even more. Happiness Becomes Mainstream Public Policy In 2011, UN published Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development where emphasized “the pursuit of happiness was a fundamental human goal, recognized that the gross domestic product (GDP) indicator was not designed to—and did not reflect adequately—the happiness and well-being of people.” 16 The Implementation of GNH in Bhutan In Bhutan, a non-profit organization, the Center for Bhutan Studies, with the help of Oxford scholar, Sabine Alkire’s Methodology of 2010, they published their first local GNH Index in 2012 that is very similar to the IIM GNW / GNH Index of 2005.17 According to the Alistair Campbell, the Strategy Director of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, “The concept and issues at the heart of the Bhutanese approach are not dissimilar to the metric used by Med Jones”18 15 Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress 16 UN. Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development (2011) 17 GNH and GNH Index 18 Alastair Campbell. In Pursuit of Personal and Political Happiness. P. 30 -31 PX8C&pg=PA30&lpg=PA30&dq=Med+Jones+Alastair+Campbell&source=bl&ots=mHEZvUp2AZ&sig=vyArmvTOIM3e6EMO70WA _huZVUk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzy-Wd5tnTAhVPImMKHd- oBcsQ6AEIOzAE#v=onepage&q=Med%20Jones%20Alastair%20Campbell&f=false
  6. 6. Campbell also advised The French President Sarkozy and the British Prime Minister Cameron, to use the same principles of the framework in the GNW and GNH economic policies.19 Upon review, researchers can see, the Bhutan GNH Index is almost identical to the IIM GNW / GNH Secular Framework with customization for the Buddhist Spiritual values that added Karma and Prayers indicators. It is clear that the major economic milestone that bridged subjective and objective measures and led to the acceptance of happiness in the west were influenced directly or indirectly by the IIM GNW / GNH framework of 2005 and the policy white paper of 2006. In 2012, researchers at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University prepared a detailed synopsis and exploration of well-being and happiness factors. This report was presented to the United States Congress by Congressman Hansen Clark. The authors of the report cited the GNW and GNH as one of the frameworks to consider. 20 Latin America Incursion Study of happiness has a recent incursion in Latin America, in 2013, Venezuelan president; Nicolas Maduro created the Vice Ministry for The Supreme Social Happiness of The Venezuelan People. “Its main objective is to provide care and assistance, at all times to citizens in general, without any distinction individually, either in a personalized or written form in order to manage before public and private organizations requests for help and / or support to the President of the Republic.”21 However, there’s no public data or national survey related to its situation. Middle East Incursion In 2016, the UAE National newspaper announced that the government of Dubai established the Ministry of Happiness in an article that referenced the International Institute of Management’s Gross National Wellbeing Index of 2005 as the background for the initiative. 22 Other Findings In the past decade, many economists, environmentalists, and sociologists have begun studying and researching if happiness can play a significant role in economic growth in secular countries such as the United States and the Europe. Some of the noteworthy initiatives include the Sustainable Society Index (SSI) in Netherlands in 2008, the Sustainable Economic Development Assessment (SEDA) in 2013, and 20 21st Century GDP: National Indicators for a New Era 21 Vice Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People 22 The happiness portfolio is no laughing matter portfolio-is-no-laughing-matter
  7. 7. the Social Progress Index (SPI) of 2014. SPI while more famous, appears to be the combination of SSI and SEDA and both are in line with to CMEPSP 2009 and IIM GNW / GNH 2005 recommendations. They also share the same basic econometric frameworks. Conclusion: The origin of the modern Happiness and Wellbeing Economics and Public Policy, has a surprising history that can be traced to two individuals and events; The first event is the accidental coining of the political phrase of GNH by the fourth King of Bhutan - A young Monarch of one of the tiniest and poorest countries of the world. The second event is the scientific contribution of an American think tank, the International Institute of Management that created the missing link between happiness, wellbeing, and socioeconomic and environmental development. For centuries, scientists and economists were not able to present an integrated tool for happiness and wellbeing development, this was partly due the challenges of quantifying subjective feelings and diversity of cultural values, let alone integrate them into an econometric framework. This has changed in the past decade, thanks to IIM GNW / GNH framework and GNW Index of 2005. The political acceleration and promotion came from three political actors, the Bhutanese government, the former French President Sarkozy, and the United Nations declaration of International day of happiness. References and Sources GDP does it measure up? St Luis Federal Reserve Newsletter economics/uploads/newsletter/2013/PageOne0513.pdf Declaration of independence of the United States The story of a king, a poor country and a rich idea Gross National Happiness Commission. Royal Government of Bhutan (2009). Tenth five year plan 2008- 2013: p.31 Bhutan: a land frozen in time Bhutan's ethnic cleansing GNH and Unhappy People Only ‘Ada Rachu’ defames GNH, degrades Women defames-gnh-degrades-women/ Med Jones. The American Pursuit of Unhappiness
  8. 8. The International Institute of Management, happiness economics page 'Journal Editorial Report,' September 26, 2009 editorial-report-september-26-200.html Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress al_progress.pdf Measuring National Well-being: Personal Well-being in the UK, 2014 to 2015 eing/2015-09-23 Bhutan GNH and GNH Index Chapter.pdf Alastair Campbell. In Pursuit of Personal and Political Happiness. Page: 30 PX8C&pg=PA30&lpg=PA30&dq=Med+Jones+Alastair+Campbell&source=bl&ots=mHEZvUp2AZ&sig=vyAr mvTOIM3e6EMO70WA_huZVUk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzy-Wd5tnTAhVPImMKHd- oBcsQ6AEIOzAE#v=onepage&q=Med%20Jones%20Alastair%20Campbell&f=false Ben Beachy, Justin Zorn. John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harvard University. 21st Century GDP: National Indicators for a New Era 12.pdf Vice Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People o.php Geurt van de Kerk and Arthur Manuel, Sustainable Society Index (SSI), Netherlands, 2008 theSSI.pdf Sustainable Economic Development Assessment, 2012, BCG assessment.aspx The Social Progress Index, Michael Porter and Michael Green, 2014 Executive-Summary.pdf