Sunday, June 17, 2012

Obama administration to embrace a Gross National Happiness Index



“The Founding Fathers wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness. In America, we would have economic freedom, just as we would have political and religious freedom. Here, we would not be limited by circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government. We would be free to pursue happiness as we wish.”

According to a recent article in The Washington Post the US wants to follow the steps of the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which has embraced the notion of “Gross National Happiness” as a national goal and has created a commission to achieve it.

For the first time the Obama administration is considering to embrace a gross national happiness index. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a panel of experts in psychology and economics, including Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, are working together to define reliable measures of 'subjective well-being.' If successful, these could become official statistics. The idea of the government tallying personal feelings might seem frivolous -- or impossibly difficult. For decades, after all, the world has gotten by with gauging a nation’s quality of life on the basis of its GDP, or gross domestic product, the sum of its economic output. But economists and others have long recognized that GDP, a dollars and cents measure, doesn’t count everything that might be considered important when assessing living conditions."

According to proponents, a measure of happiness could help assess the success or failure of a range of government policies. It could gauge the virtues of a health benefit or establish whether education has more value than simply higher incomes. It might also detect extremes of inequality or imbalances in how people divide their time between work and leisure.

However, some critics believe that trusting politicians to define happiness is like trusting politicians to define freedom. They will tamper with the terminology to maximize their own prerogatives. Happiness surveys will open a Pandora’s box, with pretexts for new government programs to reduce inequities in purported contentment between different genders, ethnicities, regions and who knows what else.

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