catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The Happy Planet Index

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The happiness researchers who oppose prosperity have a problem: they can’t go on forever re-announcing the ‘finding’ that having more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier. Even Ross Gittins will eventually get bored of it. So it’s time for gimmicks, and the new economics foundation, a British version of the Australia Institute, has come up with the Happy Planet Index. They explain it this way:

A new global measure of progress, the ‘Happy Planet Index’, reveals for the first time that happiness doesn’t have to cost the Earth. It shows that people can live long, happy lives without using more than their fair share of the Earth’s resources.

The ‘fair share’ is measured by an ‘ecological footprint’. This measures how much land area is needed to sustain a population at a given level of consumption. Apparently the earth’s biocapacity is 1.8 hectares per person, but many countries are well above it – Australia, they say, by one of the largest amounts at 7.7 hectares per person needed to sustain the Australian way of life. So we have much more than our ‘fair’ share.

The point of the Happy Planet Index is to say that it is possible – or at least nearly possible – to live a long and happy life while keeping consumption at sustainable levels.

The Happy Planet Index is defined this way HPI=(Life satisfaction * life exectancy)/Ecological footprint.

I don’t know about ecological footprints, but the political fingerprints of Friends of the Earth, who ‘supported’ this project, are all over the HPI. This index is driven by the environmental indicator, making poor countries look good – whether they are happy or not. For example, Tunisia, Yemen, Morocco and Palestine all come out ahead of any continental European country, thanks to dismal economic performance limiting their consumption. Yet all have life satisfaction ratings of 6.4/10 or below, and 5.4 in the Palestinian case. The normal average is around 7.5, with most people in Western countries self-assessing as 7 or 8. Many similarly impoverished and unhappy African countries also do well. As the previous examples indicate, democracy doesn’t count for much. Cuba rates highly. So does Uzbekistan, which as Wikipedia reports was in 2005 included in Freedom House’s “The Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies”. The dictators are probably happy. Shame about everyone else.

The HPI is a worthy inclusion in Catallaxy’s ‘dubious research’ category. What the nef really needed to show was that there were countries that 1) consume their ecological footprint or less; and 2) have a respectable life expectancy, say 70 years, and 3) have average life satisfaction in the normal range. There are five countries that qualify on these grounds: Colombia, Panama, Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and St Lucia. Perhaps it is the Caribbean weather that makes them poor but cheerful.

What this exercise really shows is that the odds are stacked heavily against long, happy lives on low consumption, just the opposite of what the nef wants us to believe.

But as a stunt the HPI has paid off, with Google News finding reports on it from around the world.

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Written by Admin

July 13, 2006 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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