Tag Archives: Politics

Who do I vote for happiness?

Tomorrow my home country, the Netherlands, goes to the polls. The Dutch political system has a low barrier to enter the parliament. Especially this year, this leads to a proliferation of parties: there are 28 parties on the ballot, of which around 11 to 15 stand a stance to win seats according to recent polls.

The broad offer of political ideas also resulted in a large amount of online voting tools. Nowadays, about fifty sites offer tools to compare your views with party manifestoes. Apart from two big and generic ones, others help you to determine which party to vote if you are an entrepreneur, a young voter, if you want to see swift work on climate change, and even if you smoke cannabis (this remains the Netherlands…!).

 

A voting tool for happiness

But there is no tool on happiness. If I want to support a politician that promotes policies improving happiness and well-being, who should I vote? Does any politician ‘run on happiness’?

Happiness is a very tricky issue for politicians. Few politicians would directly promise to make their voters happy, and for good reasons. But if you dig a bit into some of the electoral manifestoes, a couple of ideas linked to wellbeing and the beyond GDP agenda do appear.

 

Four out of the seven large parties have some notion of happiness

Let’s run through the seven parties performing best in the polls; known as VVD, PVV, CDA, D66, GroenLinks, SP and PvdA in their Dutch acronyms.

Three of the main parties do not dedicate a single word to these ideas. For the one-page manifesto of the Freedom Party (PVV, Geert Wilders), this is not a surprise. It’s main aim is to ban things that does not make its leader happy: islamic, asylum seekers, the koran, and public expenditure on culture, wind mills, public broadcasters, etc.

For the Christian Democrats (CDA) and especially Labour (PvdA), I am a bit surprised not see a reference. Both have paragraphs on sustainable economic development, and the link to welfare and wellbeing could be easily made there.

The idea of basic income – arguably also a revision to the thinking about wellbeing – appears in some manifestoes. Some smaller parties wholeheartedly support it (including a dedicated basic income party), while Labour, Greens and Social Liberals (D66) favour experiments with this tool.

 

Liberals: we are happy already, nothing to do here

The Liberals (VVD) programme follows Prime Minister Rutte’s relentless optimism: if the Netherlands wouldn’t exist, we would invent it. We’re one of the happiest countries of the world. Almost nowhere else life is as good as here (the Netherlands second?). But the measures it then proposes do not concern happiness or wellbeing – the programme simply focuses on prosperity. Is our happiness then just a coincidence? If our basis is so strong, isn’t there any way to strengthen wellbeing even further?

 

Socialists: equality makes everybody happy

The Socialists (SP) start from the correct notion that people are happier in a country with smaller differences between people, and equality is a key objective of their policies. Elsewhere, the programme notes that there is more than GDP, and wellbeing and sustainability should be considered to measure prosperity. Surprisingly, this point does not lead to a plea for alternative indicators. Instead, the relevant paragraph continues to speak out against European budget rules…

 

Greens: GDP is not holy

The Greens include a section on a pleasant life, with mostly has to do with nature and spatial planning. Quality of life in our neighbourhoods should be improved, and with an allusion to Robert F. Kennedy, the programme states that “the value of the beauty of the landscape, nature and animal welfare cannot be expressed in money”.

Elsewhere, the manifesto states that ‘GDP is not holy’, and that “wellbeing is a lot broader: green growth with sustainable boundaries, based on knowledge and innovation; inclusive growth, that creates good jobs and fair incomes. That is what counts.” A couple of nice quotations, surely, and the manifesto is full of utopian ideas to get to such a society. Indeed, according to the Central Planning Agency that reviewed the impact of most parties’ programmes, the Greens gets us very far in reducing income differences. Revision in the taxation system should finance this: the Greens are the most radical in greening the taxation system via the ‘the polluter pays’ principle.

 

Social Liberals: measure wellbeing

The Social Liberals (D66) denounce both the dogma of a government that steps too far back and the dogma of the state as a ‘happiness machine’. The programme notes that employment and social expression contribute to people’s happiness. The party also has the most detailed view on measuring wellbeing. In a dedicated paragraph, the party states that we should not only measure GDP, but also evaluate our ecological footprint, welfare, and wellbeing. These elements should be evaluated to determine our success. And based on an amendment proposed by your happiness blogger, the programme also links this to the efforts ongoing on the Netherlands to develop an alternative indicator in the form of a ‘Broad Wellbeing Monitor’.

 

NL happy

Does GNH policy work? The answer is in common values

What is Gross National Happiness (GNH) actually good for? And how do policymakers in Bhutan really use their unique development tool?

In previous posts, I’ve dived into the methodology of GNH and crunched some of numbers behind the 43,4% of happy Bhutanese. GNH was once developed to provide an alternative to the logic of mere economic development. Obviously, in the end GNH is as good or as bad as it will be used. As an observer, it seems that Bhutan stands close to GNH, for instance in environmental policy and community life.

But to really know how it works, I asked Kent Schroeder at Humber College, Canada to help me find out if GNH leads to different government decisions. He should know: he did his PhD on the implementation of GNH in Bhutan, and interviewed around 150 policymakers on all levels.

Who’s doing GNH?

Schroeder told me that several Bhutanese institutions are working on GNH: the GNH Commission, the think tank Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS), and the government.

  • The GNH Commission is a powerful body that is consulted by the government on the GNH effects of new policy initiatives. It’s reviewing new public policy initiatives before adoption. And the GNH Commission even publishes draft policies online, allowing the public to comment.
  • In addition, there is a policy screening tool, through which the Commission reviews the impact of a prospective policy on the nine domains of GNH. The tool scores all elements of the policy on a scale from 1 to 4: 1 means a negative impact, while 4 means a positive impact. In the EU bubble, we would call this a happiness impact assessment!
  • The most prominent example of the use of the policy screening tool leading to different results was the question on whether Bhutan should join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). After reviewing the consequences on GNH, the GNH Commission advise against becoming party to global free trade rules.
  • The CBS is also a highly recognised think tank, and is the driving forced behind the GNH index I’ve written so much about.
  • And then of course there are all policymakers at national, district and local level who formally all are required to follow the concept of GNH in their policies. Schroeder tells me that the GNH principle is taken into account for Bhutan’s five-year plans. In the next cycle, GNH will be devoluted, meaning that local administrations should take more responsibility. Officials can use local checklists similar to the national screening.

Does it work?

So, the means are there to effectively integrate GNH in public policy. But does it work in practice? To answer that question, Schroeder in his PhD thesis research reviewed four policy areas, namely media, tourism, farm roads, and human-wildlife conflict.

His conclusions about the effectiveness of GNH policies are as follows:

  • The influence of GNH on policy actions is unpredictable. Policies are shaped in a complex policy process, and the level of influence of different actors across policy areas and districts. As such, the impact of GNH policy tools on policy processes is limited.
  • Bhutanese citizens, and even policy makers, often do not understand what GNH really means. There is no common concept and these different interpretations also affect the policy process. Simply put, GNH is often not understood!
  • As a result, the outcome varies per policy area. Media and tourism policies largely reflect the aims of GNH. For farm roads, on the short term policy conforms with the GNH concept, but on the long term, Schroeder doubts its effect on sustainability. Finally, for the policies on the interaction on human and wildlife – a real issue in Bhutan where farmers often have to stay awake in the night to chase animals from their farmland – the result is mixed. This is also a consequence of the ambiguity of GNH.

Common values ensure GNH

Reading this, one would doubt the relevance of GNH as a concept. But there is no reason to be so dire. Even though the process is not as structured as the concept would suggest, the underlying values used by policy makers in determining their course of action typically conform with the values of GNH. As such, policy outcomes often reflect what GNH would imply – even if they’re not recognised as being connected with GNH!

Juggling yellow stress balls – my message to the Foro Bienestar conference

What serious message can a tiny, bright yellow, stress ball with a smiley convey?

Last week I shared a couple of lessons I learnt from other speakers at the well-being and development conference in Guadalajara. Today, I wanted to tell you about the points of my own presentation.

Juggling a yellow stress ball

The panel I was on had the title ‘what is the role of governments in happiness of the people? I used this little yellow ball to illustrate my message. I realised that many participants were triggered by these little balls in their welcome pack. Some people took pictures of them, holding them in front of their face or their bag and tweeted them. Probably, others just left them in a corner or threw them away. And myself, I decided to juggle with them at the beginning of my speech.

Is there a message in (very poorly!) juggling with stress balls?

I argued there was. My point was simply: everybody will use tools you give them in a different way. You can bring a horse to the stream, but you can’t force it to drink. Sometimes a horse just wants to splash the water!

It’s the same with public policies: as a government you can design policies that you hope make people happier, but you can’t control how they will react. Still, I think there is large responsibility for governments to create the underlying conditions in which citizens can strive. Long-term well-being and quality of life combine subjective elements (our emotions, how we react to circumstances) and objective elements (the  environment we live in). This environment is partly shaped by governments’ economic, environmental and social policies. If good or bad choices are made, that will ultimately influence the quality of our lives.

In the speech, I tried to give my own ‘little stress balls’, or methods to enhance quality of life. I made three suggestions to the policy makers in the room:

Integrated measurements of well-being

Firstly, I advised them to carefully measure the well-being in their jurisdiction. Well-being indicators from all areas – economy, environment, social affairs, health, education, and others – should be measured together, rather than in isolation. Now, in most countries, GDP is the main metric that is used in public policy. I argue that a dashboard of several indicators, such as in the OECD’s Better Life Index, is a good tool to have an additional layer of information. As such, policy makers can detect in which area improved policy outcomes can win the most in terms of quality of life. This can help them to focus their resources on the areas where they can make the biggest difference.

jb at forobienestarTreat well-being as a political agenda

Secondly, I suggested to treat well-being as a political agenda like any other. If the focus will be more on quality of life and well-being, and less on purely economic growth, that is a massive shift in policy! Administrations know that they have to communicate all their policies to citizens and engage in a public debate to explain the choices the made. This applies to well-being just the same as to other areas.

It starts with happiness at work

Thirdly, I advised to also look at the happiness at work of staff in the administration. Motivation and job satisfaction at an individual and team level massively affect the success that an administration will have in the implementation of it its policies. Surveys can be used to monitor and improve work satisfaction and working conditions of the staff responsible to deliver the well-being policy objectives set by politicians and policy makers. Only happy staff can create happy citizens.

Now it is to the administration of Jalisco to translate the lessons from me, and all other speakers, into new and better policies. To be continued!

(and next week, I’ll face one of the other questions debated on the conference: why are Mexicans so happy?)

yellow balls

Beyond GDP, a long road to travel

Almost fifty year since the famous speech by Robert F. Kennedy, and almost ten years after the start of a thorough debate on ‘beyond GDP’, it’s time to meet the unfilled promise.

On some occasions before, I have written blog posts to encourage EU policy makers and politicians to step up their ambitions and integrate ‘beyond GDP’ indicators in their policies. For instance, see posts on ‘Gross European Happiness‘ or ‘An EU Happiness Manifesto‘, and an essay I wrote for the Next Generation for Europe magazine NGE Magazine 1 (Chapter three, pdf).

And I must say, the topic is on the agenda. I recently had the fortune to attend a European Commission expert conference on ‘beyond GDP’. Noting the importance of the topic, the conference was opened by two outgoing Commissioners: Laszlo Andor, for Social Affairs, and Janez Potocznik, for Environment.

Winning the battle of measurement…

How to make the giant leap from theory to practice? Enrico Giovannini, a former Italian Minister and OECD Chief Statistician, has pushed the debate on GDP forwards in the recent decade. He asked whether those supporting the idea of beyond GDP have won or lost in the debates from the last years. His conclusion was that the ‘battle of measurement’ has been won. In comparison to ten years ago, national statistic offices do a lot more effort to measure what matters.

Routine measurements of social and environmental indicators allows us to get a broader understanding of quality of life than economic growth and inflation could give us. They are more and more interested in collecting and refining social figures on employment rates, NEET rates (people Not in Education, Employment or Training – a proxy for youth employment), and inequality-adjusted GDP growth. Environmental numbers like generated waste, emission of green house gasses and water use also gain more prominence. And new indices like the OECD Better Life Index treat all indicators equally.

OECD

Screenshot of the OECD Better Life Index website

… but the battle for policy must still be fought

There are two questions around this: do we measure enough? And do we do enough to exploit this massive amount of data and adapt our policies to it? When asking whether we won the battle of policy, the answer from Giovannini is simple – no. If you want to make simple policies from these crunched numbers, you have to make trade-offs. How much air pollution is an increase in GDP of 1% worth? How much fossil fuels can you burn to lift one thousand people out of poverty? And what, objectively, is well-being anyway? These are incredibly difficult questions to answer. Economic growth is a lot easier objective. There is no easy way out.

Can economic, environmental and social betterment go hand in hand? The Commission – via its stated objective of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth – thinks so. But MEP Philippe Lamberts doesn’t agree. He believes that in a finite planet, sustainable growth is an inherent paradox. From an environmental perspective, we may need degrowth; but at the same time, that has consequences on employment. And, higher growth is also associated with more money invested in environmental protection.

How do you cut this Gordian knot?

The quest for perfection limits action

Nobody can easily answer these complex these questions. But I can offer my own conclusions:

  1. A lot of laudable work is being done by statisticians and policymakers, especially in social and environmental departments. With a lot of conviction and passion, they had managed to put the issue on the agenda. But they need to get economists more involved in these debate to get more leverage. It was telling that very few participants were trained economists.
  2. Call me a pessimist, but my feeling is that the political momentum behind the beyond GDP drive is fading. There are generic references to the agenda, but the policy efforts needs to be stepped up. In my view, policymakers need to be more courageous and bring their policies to main stream politics. That requires broad political campaigning and communication, as the new economics foundation also writes (pdf). Reports don’t change reality. Action does.
  3. Finally, maybe it is a quest for perfection that is limiting action. A perfect measurement of well-being does not exist. If you group indicators together in one figure – say well-being is ’42′ – you can make little sense of it. Similarly, a ‘dashboard’ with eleven different figure as in the OECD Better Life Index can be difficult to apply. But in this case, it appears the perfect is the enemy of good. GDP also has been refined often. It’s better to refine measures and policies of well-being on the way than to never start the journey.

Beyond GDP: a long road to travel, but one that is worthy to go.

The EU elections

Sorry, for once a post that requires a specific interest – and some prior knowledge – in EU politics. No worries, next week I’ll talk about happiness again.

EU elections! After weeks of tensions built up, it’s over. The electorate has voted across the 28 EU countries. We don’t really know what they have said, but at least we’ll spin it in our favour.

There is a lot you can read in the result, but I would argue that the outcome – a low turnout of 43.09% and the rise of Eurosceptic and extreme right/left parties – suggest voters are not fully content with their leaders. I’ll avoid the discussion about happiness and politics today and just share five stories about the EU elections.

  • At 43.09%, the turnout is low, though marginally higher than in 2009 (43.00%). Absurdly enough, this was a reason for some EP voices to boldly claim the decline in turnout has been reversed. It is very worrisome to sustain democracy in a country like Slovakia, only 13% went to the polls. Seven out of eight simply didn’t care enough to make their voice heard! 

 

  • Let’s visualize it to better understand what the impact is that this 56.91% which is not represented in the EP.  Imagine 56.91% of the seats in the EP would not be assigned to anyone. In that case, more than half of the EP – 427 seats – would be empty. The political groups together would only fill 324 seats, the EPP with 92 being the largest. 

Non-voters

  • Another important narrative of the elections is the rise of the populists and extreme right. To me, this is too simplistic. In many countries, far right parties are doing well. Sadly, there are even enough for the Huffington post to make a list with “9 Scariest Far-Right Parties now in the European Parliament“. But not all of them are winning: Wilders’ PVV lost one seat in the Netherlands, and Jobbik in Hungary is staying at three seats. And euroskeptics come in many different flavours: UKIP (UK), AfD (Germany) and M5S (Italy) are incomparable in their opposition to the EU.

 

  • Altogether, the most interesting story to me is the fragementation of the EP. The slim lead of the EPP against the S&D could reinforce a strong competition. But will want to put their mark on the EP’s position. All the smaller parties will also want to be visible. This fact, and the ample presence of eurosceptics may result in some polarisation and could end the impression that all MEPs agree that whatever the problem, more Europe is the solution.

 

  • On the web, these are the elections of ‘Dear Europe, we are sorry‘. French people everywhere on Twitter share this to ‘apologise’ for the fact that Marine Le Pen’s Front National went from 3 to 24 seats in France. I can understand their frustration, but I don’t see the point in apologising for decisions taken by others. You don’t need to carry the weight of a quarter of the country on your shoulders. Rather than taking an apologetic stance, do something to fight bigotry and discrimination. Become member of a party. Do volunteer work to help people who are worse off. Fight for your ideals! But feeling ashamed about other people’s choices – that will never change anything.
Picture 4

Screenshot of www.deareuropewearesorry.eu

Russell Brand is still farting – for revolution

Tonight I went to see Russell Brand’s new show, Messiah Complex. Whether he has a true messiah complex, or just a strong opinion about everything, I’m not sure.

On stage, he is flanked by portraits of four great men: Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, Malcolm X and Jesus Christ. And during the show, we find out what he  has in common with his personal heroes.

Brand’s texts are very sharp. He packages his criticism of society in extremely elaborate and fancy phrases that I can hardly reproduce here. Take a look at his famous interview with Jeremy Paxman of the BBC to get an idea of his ideas of revolution.

Brand believes in socialism and communism. He believes in revolution, though a revolution without a programme. He denounces politicians serving themselves and advertising creating false desires in us, but does not propose a way to an alternative.

That’s of course fine: diagnosing a problem does not mean you’re responsible to find the cure. And as a comedian, he fulfills the role of the fool or the clown that makes us question the world we live in, the planet we destroy, the lack of social justice worldwide.

The dark side of heroes

Admirably, he also discuss some of the things that Gandhi, Guevara and Malcolm X did not get right. He tells how Gandhi refused to give his wife an English medicine, preferring Indian ayurvedic medicins required by the Hindu tradition. She tragically died. When he fell ill himself some weeks later, he did accept the medicine.- In Brand’s interpretation, Gandhi had a mission on earth and more to live for.

But some of Brand’s social critic is a bit too simple. It is true that large global companies and some political systems concentrate power and money in the hands of the few. That is part of the system we live. But is it the systematic intention of people that go to work every day to exploit others or to accumulate wealth and power to the detriment of others? I don’t believe so. Large organisation also provide jobs, a livelihood and meaning to so many people that just want to live their lives. Many of us are better off than all generations before us.

Fart for revolution

Some of the elements are shallow. Call me conservative: some jokes about sex with cats are funny, but if it goes on and on it doesn’t contribute to the story. Denouncing all evils is worthwhile. But parts of his remarks, packed in fancy sentences, are mere provocation, the equivalent of farting for revolution. Brand’s attracting the attention by saying “look, I just farted, now listen to me”, as if he never grew older than four.

The message: find your heroes

In any case, the combination between high and low registers works. There’s something in the show for people who just want to have a laugh. Brand has great charisma, warmth and style. He is a personality on stage. And there’s a strong message: everybody needs to have heroes, even if they’re not perfect. Nothing is black or white. And even from those who have their dark side, there’s is a lesson to learn. Mistakes that our heroes have made don’t mean we can’t be inspired by them to change for the better. The same applies to himself – from a drug addict to comedian revolutionary.

Maybe Russell Brand is the messiah.

Russell Brand

 

Gross European Happiness: A Challenge for EU Policymakers in 2014

At the end of January, the place to be for the political chic was the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Politicians, economist and business leaders met to discuss myriad fundamental challenges to our future, from internet governance to global poverty.  The WEF also saw the presentation of a report on “Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply.

Behind this boring title, the International Resource Panel (IRP), a UN think tank, hid a compelling argument: The demand for food and fuel puts an enormous pressure on our ecosystem. On current trends, between 320 and 849 million hectares of natural land worldwide (the latter number nearly being the size of Brazil) will be converted into cropland in the next 35 years. Such an expansion would harm soil productivity, forest cover and biodiversity. That would be a disaster, thus it is imperative to break the link between resource consumption and economic development.

Measuring progress

The conclusions are no surprise to ‘beyond GDP’ campaigners, whom have for years pointed out the limitations of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculations. GDP measures the total economic value of all goods and services produced within one country in one year. Though a valuable indicator for economic wealth, GDP has its setbacks. It ignores environmental and social costs – such as land degradation, pollution and social tension.

A rich country is not always one that makes people happy or increases their well-being. Yet, GDP growth has become a proxy for progress. Most government policies are based on the idea that growth is necessary. Policymakers seldom ask themselves how their policies impact well-being or happiness at large.

The beyond GDP movement believes governments should use alternative indicators to steer their policies. Gross National Happiness (GNH), developed in the 1970s in the Himalaya kingdom of Bhutan, is the most famous alternative. GNH aims to measure the well-being of Bhutan’s citizens, and is the core element shaping public policy. The index measures 124 variables concerning people’s economic situation, education, health, psychological well-being, time use, and community life. In the last decades, GNH has inspired countries and global organizations worldwide, including the UN, the OECD, France and the UK.

Moving forwards

Despite this the EU has done little to shift its focus to human well-being.  Since the onslaught of the economic crisis, policies have focused primarily on restoring economic growth. While growth clearly helps in avoiding hardship, the EU can learn a lot from the likes of Bhutan. Five years ago, the EUCommission adopted a policy paper, “GDP and beyond. Measuring progress in a changing world.” But it hasn’t acted on this since.

This must change. The EP elections in 2014 offer a great opportunity to reset the system. Following these elections, and the appointment of a new Commission I propose these two institutions follow Bhutan’s approach and take Gross European Happiness (GEH), not GDP, as their guiding principle for economic and social development.

Gross European Happiness

What does GEH mean? In principle, it’s only a change in accounting systems. Our current accounting system is GDP, and we use it to measure economic growth. What you measure defines your frame of reference. Had we measured our well-being as closely as we’re now doing with GDP, Europe would be a different place. Therefore, the first step of the new Commission President should be to create a European version of Bhutan’s GNH Index. A GEH index, based on European values and aiming to track the development over time of Europeans’ objective well-being, must be created to measure progress in a more meaningful way.

EU policies will get a reboot with new MEPs and Commissioners in office later this year. It’s time to convince them of the benefits of GEH. Robert F. Kennedy once said that GDP measures everything in life, except that what makes it worthwhile. EU policymakers should take his words to heart. GEH is the answer.

This article was first published at the blog of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP).

The politics of well-being

Some time ago, I was ‘converted’ to the creed of well-being politics, if I may use that term. To the extent they’re willing to listen, I’ve told many people why I believe governments should adopt a broader perspective than economic growth and fully integrate environmental and social development in their policies.

In this context, I’ve had the question whether I’m pursuing a personal political agenda behind this. I’ve never had a clear-cut answer to this. Firstly, I don’t see myself as a politician. It’s a tough job to have a well-founded opinion about everything. And secondly, as a person with a social-liberal disposition, I am not sure how large the role of the government can be.

My recent discussions with fellow social-liberals indicated limited political support for my ideas to attach more weight to policies that can enhance well-being and happiness. And at the two congresses I recently attended, it still seemed to be seen as a creative, somewhat strange, idea. But what is the purpose of our state, if not promoting the well-being of its citizens?

Part of the aversion is out of fears of governments deciding how we should be happy. Even if that’s a concern in totalitarian states, there is no reason to dismiss any government role in ‘well-being politics’. Naturally, the government should in no way tell us how to be happy. Every individual is responsible for their own life and the happiness and well-being that result from their choices. Still, there are areas where we need our governments.

In the current post-crisis ‘happiness wave’, there is more attention for these policies. Media increasingly pay attention to it. On Bhutan’s initiative, the UN introduced an International Day of Happiness in 2013. Venezuela has a minister of supreme happiness. And several countries are exploring new ways to integrate well-being in their policies.

 

Beyond economic growth

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley - a politician who believes in GNH! Source: UN

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley – a politician who believes in GNH! Source: UN

The main point of the well-being political agenda is that objectives other than economic growth should be granted a larger role in political decisions. An important method to do this is the Gross National Happiness (GNH) index (see also this earlier post). If you are not familiar with its methodology, GNH by its name can come across as a vague phenomenon pursued by pot-smoking, tree-hugging utopians.

But it is a lot more solid than that. The Bhutanese concept is based on 124 variables that determine an individual’s well-being or quality of life. And apart from GNH, there are many other alternative ‘beyond GDP’ indicators.

Their aim is basic and revolutionary at the same time. Beyond GDP indicators (there is at least a dozen contenders) aim to benchmark the performance of a society in a broader perspective. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has many advantages, but doesn’t reflect the costs (in economic and well-being terms) of environmental damage and social inequality.

The assumption of ‘beyond GDP’ advocates that if you measure something else – GNH instead of GDP – you’ll also act differently. A state that benchmarks its performance on GNH does not neglect the importance of monetary wealth. What it tries to do is to carefully balance the benefits of economic growth with its environmental, social and psychological impact. Politicians are increasingly aware of the promise of well-being politics. One party congress I attended adopted a position calling for the use of the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW). But there is still a long way to go before politicians truly implement these lessons. I will play my part in convincing them.