Tuesday 21 Aug 2018 | 07:55 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 21 Aug 2018 | 07:55 | SYDNEY

Targeting happiness won\'t make everyone happy


Mark Thirlwell

18 November 2010 15:10

In the UK, David Cameron's government is reportedly planning to start measuring GWB (general wellbeing) as well as the more traditional metric of GDP. 

There's actually a fairly long history of discontent with GDP as a summary statistic. Economists and statisticians are well aware of its many drawbacks, including the absence of non–market activities, problems with the measurement of services, the treatment of externalities and of non–renewable resources, and so on. Despite what some critics allege, I reckon that many economists' general attitude towards relying on GDP as a statistic is similar to Churchill's views on democracy: it's the worst measure we have, except for all of the others.

There's also been a (more recent) history of discontent with using GDP as a proxy for measuring economic well–being more generally.  One strand of this has focused on the measurement of happiness, although the general critique has been much broader. Last year, for example, a commission of eminent economists, including Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, produced a detailed report for the French government, looking at the shortcomings of GDP and canvassing some alternatives. 

So, will the UK government's announcement be welcomed by all those GDP–sceptics out there'  Since context is everything, quite possibly not.

Photo by Flickr user libraryman, used under a Creative Commons licence.