Gross National Happiness, is it a concept, reality, or a philosophical leap of faith? Bhutan a tiny country located at the eastern end of the Himalayas, first adopted this idea in 1972, of using Gross National Happiness as a measure of its people’s welfare, rather than a narrow measure like income.
I have called my album “Gross National Happiness” as it is based around values of social justice. Its musical ideas are formed from economic realities of past and present. The idealistic nature of this concept feels more important in this time of crisis.
Our financial system is still is struggling to re-establish itself after the 2008 crash and soon the wealthiest 1% of people in the world will own 50% of the wealth. Super rich, austerity, capital, inequality, are all buzzwords of today that feed into our modern society and how we attempt to keep the balance of these complex issues. So is it maybe time to look at Gross National Happiness properly, as in fair distribution of wealth, opportunity and equal access for all.
This has created massive debate prompting several leading financial kingpins, such as Lloyd Blankfein Head of Goldman Sachs who stated that,“ The two goals of the economy should be to expand the wealth of the world and to do it fairly and that the “in America the last two generations had been great at creating wealth and not distributing it”.
Mark Carney who is the current Head of the bank of England, has recently stated that the balance between Social Capital and Economic capital is been ignored to our great peril and continued austerity in Europe could lead to another lost decade. Social capital is our work, that the meets with economic capital as the basis of wealth creation system. It is this disconnect; between capital and labour that has created the 99% -1% conundrum.
Movements like Occupy Wall Street highlighted this, but its lack of any real alternative solutions, made its impact short lived. These two prime indicators of social capital and economic capital highlight, that while the world gets richer, our systems inability to adjust to changing economic models have overwhelmed governments and created a very unstable volatile society.
So to Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, it’s spiritual home. Tshering Tobgay the current leader of Bhutan said that, if we spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about GNH rather than delivering basic services, then it is a distraction. The previous autocratic monarchy of Bhutan was a deeply illiberal and its means of legitimising undemocratic rule, failed utterly to prevent grotesque abuses of human rights. Literacy is still only around 50 per cent in Bhutan and only around half of children attend secondary school. So like any ideals, their implementation into economic reality is crucial to their success.
The great disappointment in Ireland in the last few years, has been the lack of vision and the obsessive concentration on the economic austerity to the detriment of its citizen’s well being. This is not to ignore the extremely difficult economic situation we found ourselves in 2008. Our solution of austerity, the so-called medicine to solve our ills, has always been wrong. It has shown how disunited actually Europe is, with no proper fiscal integration, debt mutualisation and more importantly the straight jacket that the Euro has put us in, with currently diverging not converging economies.
There is a long history of austerity and its failure is something that our current government does not even acknowledge. Just to put into context austerity’s past; Hoover introduced it in 1931 in America and it lead to the great depression of the 1930’s and they only recovered when the war stared in 1939.
Germany’s Weimar government also introduced austerity in 1931, unemployment shot up from 10% to over 30% by 1933. Having failed in the 1920’s by first devaluing and then printing money, causing hype inflation to solve its post World War 1 debt problems, austerity lead to huge unemployment and to the Nazi party finally gaining power in 1933 and the horrors of the 2nd World War.
In the late 1970’s early 1980’s Argentina Mexico and Brazil all introduced austerity and all defaulted partially or totally defaulted. Many of today’s IMF imposed solutions in Europe, failed to help Central and South America. In 1990 Japan along with other East Asian countries, suffered from austerity and it eventually caused stagflation in Japan, which it is still trying to get beyond to this day.
Structural adjustment is never easy and Ireland as a country was always going to suffer, because of our situation in 2008. Unfortunately we are not looking at the key problem, the Euro itself and its build in structural failures.
Solving complex problems for diverging economies in Europe and punishing those that did not cause the crisis are not what we should be doing.
Repairing the lives of its citizens, creating employment, creating demand, is the order of the day. Barack Obama recent state of address echoed many calling for a more equitable approach to how we structure wealth distribution in our society. This is to renew the system we have and enhance it, not to discourage innovation or success, which are absolutely intrinsic to how we operate.
Thomas Picketty the French economist book called Capital has looked to the future and how to start to change the system we have. The book’s intention is to examine how we can drive capital through our system in a more intelligent way. From the huge data he has compiled, he has said current wealth disparity is currently at World War 1 levels. He also warns of a return of “patrimonial capitalism” or inherited wealth. His is not a solution but provides the basis for discussion and a pathway for the next generation to look at wealth and inequality.
The idea of taxing wealth is extreme to some, but trickle down economics is not working. Indeed a look at Joseph Stiglitz book “The price of inequality“ that has statistical analysis of economic performance, showing GDP was greater from 1945 to 1980, than 1980 to 2012 under the neo liberal model, were GDP has decreased and wealth inequality has reached record inequality today. Ireland has grown unequal according to a new report by the think-tank Tasc.
However while this report highlights an Irish and wider worldwide problem, it is important to distinguish between capital and its return and labour (work) and its return. Wage growth has stagnated for labour (work), while capital has mobility to optimise its return, hence the greater divergence in the 99% and 1%.
Gross National Happiness may not be an idea we can achieve in an imperfect world, but it is something we should aspire to. The concentration on cutting resources societies need to function, benefits and social supports, is to focus on all the wrongs elements. Wealth inequality and social justice are the most pressing issues of our time and can only enhance our society and move capitalism as a system to its next stage of evolution.