The Experience of Gross National Happiness

During the mid-1970s, Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, still a teenage monarch, first introduced gross national happiness (GNH), and said that gross domestic product (GDP) is less important than GNH because GDP alone could not deliver happiness and well-being. The last 40 years have shown that many societies are interested not only in GDP but also something beyond. “GDP is a gravely dated pursuit”1 (Oswald, 2010). The GDP-based system preceded any knowledge of climate change or the finite limits of the earth’s resources. GDP is an accounts system that measures external conditions of human existence, as far as they can be measured, through prices. One of the reasons why money measures of economic performance have come to play such an important role is that monetary valuation of goods and services makes it easy to add up quantities of very different nature (Stiglitz, Sen, and Fittoussi 2009). However, things are more complicated. Prices may not exist for some goods and services. And even if prices exist, they may deviate from a society’s underlying valuation. “GDP information influences all agents in the economy: consumers, savers, investors, banks, stock and option markets, private companies, the government, central banks and international organizations. Because of the misleading nature of GDP information, economic agents take wrong decisions from the perspective of social welfare” (Bergh Van den 2010).2 Bergh has pointed out that GDP does not clearly differentiate between costs and benefits, and stocks and flows and therefore violates the two fundamental principles of good bookkeeping.

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