The Happy Planet Index 2.0

Yippee!

The nef have done us proud and given us the Happy Planet Index 2.0.

Whoo hoo!

You\’ll not be surprised to hear that they\’ve changed their measurement techniques. Version 1.0 had Vanauatu as the top place on the planet. Clearly and obviously they couldn\’t allow the likes of me to make cheap shots about penis sheaths and worshipping the Duke of Edinburgh as a Living God as their prescription for the Good Life. So, a change in methods and a change in what is the Good Place.

Costa Rica actually, and I\’m sure it is a nice place to live. But let\’s see what else they say:

Meanwhile, the problems that plagued us before, risk becoming even more acute: more than half the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day; inequality continues to rise even in richer countries.
And yet, with crisis comes opportunity. The dogmas of the last 30 years have been discredited. The unwavering pursuit of economic growth – embodied in the overwhelming focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – has left over a billion people in dire poverty, and has not notably improved the well-being of those who were already rich, nor even provided us with economic stability.

What glorious writing! No, seriously, there should be a prize for this sort of stuff. Absolutely no mention at all of the fact that the last few decades have seen the greatest reduction in poverty in the history of the entire species. Hundreds of millions of people have risen up out of that $2.50 a day poverty. Global inequality has fallen, whether you measure Concept II (by country, weighted by population) or Concept III (global population as a whole).

Of this we get not a whisper. Way to be open and transparent, no?

This amuses:

How can one compare the impact of using a gallon of oil with a gallon of water, or a tonne of potatoes with a tonne of potassium?

Well, price is a pretty good indication of the resources being used. Not perfect, but pretty good.

The best available approach is currently the ecological footprint, developed by ecologists Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees, and championed by a range of organisations including the Global Footprint Network and WWF.54 The EU statistical agency Eurostat is considering incorporating the ecological footprint into its sustainable development indicator set,55 whilst the Welsh Assembly Government has already adopted it as one of five headline indicators of sustainability.
The ecological footprint of an individual is a measure of the amount of land required to provide for all their resource requirements plus the amount of vegetated land required to sequester (absorb) all their CO2 emissions and the CO2 emissions embodied in the products they consume. This figure is expressed in units of ‘global hectares’. The advantage of this approach is that it is possible to estimate the total amount of productive hectares available on the planet.

And what you\’re not told there, nor are you by Mathis Whackerdoodle, the CO2 absorbed by the food grown for you to consume is not counted as part of the recylcing of the CO2 of your lifestyle. So there\’s gross double counting.

Oh, yes, nuclear power is ascribed a footprint the same as coal, rather than the around and about hydro or wind power (and much lower than solar PV) that it actually has.

Improving living standards in poorer countries can only be achieved in parallel with declining resource consumption in richer ones.

Jesus Sam (yes, Sam Thompson, sometime reader of this blog, is one of the authors). That\’s ludicrous even by your standards. You\’re the people arguing that consumption of resources doesn\’t lead to higher living standards in the real and meaningful manner: so how on earth can improving living standards require more use of resources?

It doesn\’t even make sense in neo-liberal terms: GDP measures added value, remember, not resource consumption.

This gets even fucking worse:

It only attained its quasi-mystical role when GDP was placed atop the podium of indicators with the development of the United Nations System of National Accounts, in 1947. At that time, focusing on productivity growth made sense.

Productivity is not, as these lentil knitters seem to think, producing more. Nor is it consuming more, nor using more resources. It is, in fact, the opposite of that last. It is producing more from the same resources….or producing the same from fewer resources.

The notion of GDP growth almost seems to have a halo around it. It has reached the status of motherhood and apple pie.

Yes you twats! GDP is \”value added\”! That\’s exactly what we want! whether we use more resources, the same, or fewer, we still want to add the maximum value to them we can!

Is there something about being a vegetarian prodnose that destroys brain cells?

But this feature of the system sets it at odds with a widely noted fact about human nature – that once our basic material needs are comfortably met, more consumption tends to make little difference to our well-being.

And research shows that living in a society without growth makes us unhappy…..

In the same year, Eurostat, the European statistical agency commissioned a consortium of experts, including nef, to consider the feasibility of a well-being indicator for Europe.

Yup, these people are being paid by the European Union to peddle this tripe to….the European Union. As \”experts\” for the Lord\’s sake.

Statistical tests reveal the mean life satisfaction, life expectancy and HPI scores of small islands to be significantly higher than non-islands – whilst their income levels do not diverge in the same way.133 These results should come as no surprise to anyone who has read Karl Polanyi’s increasingly popular, classic work The great transformation. In it he presents various types of social and economic organisation on islands as evidence against some of Adam Smith’s more sweeping assumptions on the central role of markets.134 Complex forms of ‘gift exchange,’ in which people partly meet their needs not through markets mediated with cash, but through the giving and receiving of gifts, operated over vast areas, reveal a system that not only meets people’s needs in a challenging environment but bonds society together by emphasising economic relationships based on cooperation and reciprocity, rather than individualistic competition.

Pathetic. Smith did note the ease of using cash in mediating markets: but he certainly didn\’t try to say that gift exchanges were not markets. This is a fairly desperate grasping at straws by these people.

And their suggestions:

We might, for example, only work three or four days a week (Box 5) and in turn, take advantage of this shift to reduce unemployment by sharing work more equitably.

Lump of labour fallacy. Morons.

With potentially more time on our hands, might we think of a future in which we invest more in civil society – perhaps by volunteering or participating in democratic decision-making? Or maybe we would use the opportunity to achieve greater reciprocity within communities and in the delivery of public services, ensuring public money is able to achieve more with less?

Excellent! Let\’s work less for pay and more for nothing!

Meanwhile, perhaps the priority for technological development will be to cut down on the inefficient use of non-renewable resources?

Anyone remember how to do that? Ain\’t it a capitalist, free market society?

Oh, and their ranking of happy countries? The right places to live upon this earth?

1. Costa Rica

2. Dominican Republic

3. Jamaica

4. Guatemala

5. Vietnam

6. Colombia

7. Cuba

8. El Salvador

9. Brazil

10. Honduras

11. Nicaragua

12. Egypt

13. Saudi Arabia

14. Philippines

15. Argentina

16. Indonesia

17. Bhutan

18. Panama

19. Laos

20. China

You know, the first thing that leaps out of that list is that if you want to use few resources try and live in a tropical country: not much energy needed for heating is there? And a poor one so no one has A/C. The other one is live in a Spanish influenced one.

Siestas, that\’s it, that\’s the secret to a long, happy and non polluting lifestyle.

By Jove, I think we\’ve cracked it there. Nope, really, the nef has found out (and I bet you could indeed construct from their numbers a chart showing a correlation between siestas and a high HPI) that the way to save the planet is that we all have an afternoon nap.

Would have been a rather shorter report if they\’d just told us that in the first place.

19 comments on “The Happy Planet Index 2.0

  1. If all this wealth is making us unhappy isn’t it cruel to make the poor richer? Isn’t the humane thing to do to take all their resources, and leave them poor- but happy. I will personally sacrifice my happiness by accepting other’s wealth in order to make them happier.

  2. Does this go for everyone -or- only those of the properly sanctioned nef-mindset:

    With potentially more time on our hands, might we think of a future in which we invest more in civil society – perhaps by volunteering or participating in democratic decision-making?

    Btw, what ever happened to the measure being that of those living on $1/day?

  3. I have been to Costa Rica on holiday and it is really nice. But is it the best place to live on Earth?
    Nicaragua definetly isn’t that good a place – there are loads of illegal Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica- hardly a sign of perfection.

  4. What glorious writing! No, seriously, there should be a prize for this sort of stuff. Absolutely no mention at all of the fact that the last few decades have seen the greatest reduction in poverty in the history of the entire species. Hundreds of millions of people have risen up out of that $2.50 a day poverty. Global inequality has fallen, whether you measure Concept II (by country, weighted by population) or Concept III (global population as a whole).

    It does seem odd for them to ignore that, especially when it proves the opposite of what you want it to.

    The biggest shifts in income in the last 3 decades have come from India and China. Although these countries have moved closer to liberal capitalism they are still following “left-wing” development patterns. They both have high tariffs and run large state run industries.

    They have moved rightwards but only from the far left. They do a lot more for List than Smith.

    If you look at countries which have had open borders to good and capital you see a record of poor growth. Africa’s borders are wide open, it is still the broken continent.

    Smith did note the ease of using cash in mediating markets: but he certainly didn’t try to say that gift exchanges were not markets. This is a fairly desperate grasping at straws by these people.

    In fairness it sounds as though they heard of Polanyi and just tried to name drop. Polanyi had some fairly major things to say about the mixture of different economic forms in a society.

    In short, the main classes are reciprocity, redistribution, exchange and household economic activity. Gifts come under reciprocity and the NHS would come under redistribution. His main argument was that the 19th Century saw the first attempt to subsume all the above within a market caused the inevitable collapse into protectionism or Bismarkian welfarism (short and terrible summary alert, read The Great Transformation).

    NEF sound a bit mad saying his main point was “look tropical islands, how nice!”

    Btw, what ever happened to the measure being that of those living on $1/day?

    It was rubbish, it was $1.08 of 1996 dollars if I’m correct and wasn’t terribly good when it was introduced in the first place. It was based on an American basket of minimum goods needed but it was easy to market and conceptualise.

  5. Their suggestion for reducing unemployment is nothing but happy talk to draw in the rubes (such as I used to be). If there was ever a situation for reducing unemployment by reducing work loads and sharing the work, it would be academia for the last twenty or so years. There is plenty of unemployment, and there are plenty of leftists in academia who like the idea of shared work loads.

    At least, they like it theoretically. When it comes to actual practice, the situation is vastly different. Talk of shared work loads is presently all but absent in academia. Those of us who are unemployed are simply thought of us being less talented than those who are employed, so we deserve our unhappy fate. It sounds very much like the conservatives.

    In addition, projections for the future should be balanced by what could go wrong, and while I mostly skimmed this piece, it doesn’t seem like they did that. What if lowering the level of economic activity makes bikes super expensive? It seems like they are inadvertently pushing us back to the horse-and-buggy era, and not many today have much experience with horses. Where will we end up? What if many of us end up as servants on the vast estates of wealthy liberals like Gore?

    So far, the track record of environmentalists in helping the poor is not a good one, and I just don’t think they’re going to change over night. I don’t see any good reason to sign on to this future, as there are too many unknowns, too many ridiculous assumptions (about climate change, etc.), and too little appreciation for the huge benefits that better technology has brought to us.

  6. Judging by desire won’t happiness be best measured by access to cocaine or sex or both.

  7. Left Outside – “The biggest shifts in income in the last 3 decades have come from India and China. Although these countries have moved closer to liberal capitalism they are still following “left-wing” development patterns. They both have high tariffs and run large state run industries.”

    I don’t know about India, but China does not have particularly high tariffs. Their tariffs are also largely notional – they are collected by local Governments, not by the Central Government. So as long as the local authorities get their quota they don’t much care about anything.

    The point about China’s SOEs is that they are bankrupt. China does not have such a large state sector, but what it has is largely a disaster. They are massively loss making. Even the ones they have cleaned up and tried to make profitable like Haier are probably operating at a loss. China’s real economic growth is taking place totally outside the State’s control or authority.

    “They have moved rightwards but only from the far left. They do a lot more for List than Smith.”

    Really? Ever tried to get State aid for health care in China?

    “If you look at countries which have had open borders to good and capital you see a record of poor growth. Africa’s borders are wide open, it is still the broken continent.”

    Actually Africa, as you would expect, has some of the highest tariffs in the world last I checked. I could be wrong but I doubt it.

  8. It is interesting that the nef balls seem to think that being murdered does not decrease your happiness (virtually every country with a massive murder rate is on that list – Jamaica for instance. Colombia for crying out loud. Brazil.) but that voting does (most of the rest being Communist dictatorships).

  9. How did Saudi – a vicious illiberal monarchy, with enormous financial inequality (especially if you count the non-citizen part of the population) creep in to this neo-Communist (except Cuba, of course, which remains solidly old-fashioned Marxist) love in?

  10. The mystery for me is why North Korea was left out of the list. I mean, come on, that’s a place they really don’t stint on the equality. Must be deliriously happy. Stands to reason.

  11. “Colombia for crying out loud”
    Actually I think parts of Colombia are getting a lot safer. Bogota is now safer than Washington.

  12. The Happy Planet Index is much mis-represented in the media. It does not rank countries by happiness but by happiness x life expectancy divided by ‘ecological footprint’. This is pretty much equivalent to happiness/GDP.

    So unless happiness increases 1-for-1 with GDP (and I don’t know anyone who would claim it does), economic growth is almost guaranteed to reduce a country’s score. Right now, most countries’ scores are improving, of course, because of the recession. Whoopee.

    If you plot nef’s reported life satisfaction scores against the ecological footprint you actually get a pretty good positive relationship. Pollution makes people happier? No: economic growth makes people happier. On the nef’s own figures, just the opposite of their own conclusion.

    Actually, this time round the country with the highest HPI score also happens to have a very high happiness measure. So very conveniently for the nef, they don’t have to rush to correct headlines that say “Costa Rica is best place to live” (as no doubt they otherwise would, being careful and objective researchers).

    But it needn’t have come out that way: being just a bit miserable but utterly shit-poor is another way to get a good score.

    Stop press. Just done the regression. A 10% increase in ecological footprint increases happiness by 4.1%. The t-stat on the independent variable is 9.98 which means the relationship is statistically significant at a level I can’t even be bothered to work out (the rule of thumb is if it’s more than 2 it’s OK): more than 99.999% certainty. So there you have it: nef proves that dirty growth makes people happier.

    More pollution please.

  13. Commenting a bit late on this blog but come to it via a bit of side research.

    Firstly, I have to say I agree with ‘So Much For Subtlety’ and ‘Surreptitious Evil ‘s comments, and as far as I am aware Costa Rica has an above average murder rate of 7.68 per 100k of population (2006) when the last global average availible is 7.6 (2004).

    Secondly I have been lucky enough to live in both Denmark (No. 1 in the World Map of Happiness in the University of Leicester) and Vanuatu (No. 1 in HPI 2006) and have to say I like both experiences. But given a choice I’d rather grow up in Denmark with all the advantages of a developed western country and retire to Vanutau to enjoy the weather, laid back life style.

    Danes I still know gruble about there high tax income burden effecting their retirment portfolio in 20 years, while Vanut’s just worry about tomorrow’s weather effecting the fishing tomorrow (and have a happier life for it).

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