Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bhutan up the happiness 

Like Angus, I read this article from the WSJ this morning and laughed heartily. My co-editor has an article in the book on happiness measurement which takes this literature to task, and I won't refer to it yet. But here's my question -- how do you ever know if happiness went up or down? "Gross national happiness rose 2.8% in the third quarter, buoyed by an increase in betel nut consumption and an absence of glowing reports on the Yankees' PR push. A sharp rise in showings of RoboCop on Star Movies bucked against the trend."

How are you going to know how your country is doing when your idea of measuring welfare is done like this?

Outside the government high school in Thimphu, 29-year-old researcher Karma Wangdi recently interviewed Bhanaan Humagai, a 16-year-old high school student.

Question: On a scale of 10, how happy are you?

Answer: 8

Question: How stressed are you?

Answer: Somewhat stressed. I am studying for exams.

Question: Have you ever thought of suicide?

Answer: No! (laughs).

Do you code the answer for suicidal thoughts differently if you get laughter with the 'no'? And there are different kinds of laughs available.

Seriously, we know from Easterlin that happiness doesn't increase even when income increases greatly, when looking over long periods of time. So periodic measurement of happiness is either going to be a measure of what have you done for me lately, or is going to be used to denigrate economic growth as traditionally measured. Given Angus' observation that
the only concrete policy steps taken to raise it are (1) a smoking ban, (2) a dress code, and (3) setting limits of how much of the country can be developed.
...we can infer which it will be.