Dr R Balashankar
Happiness is a state of mind. Surveys show that Indians by nature are a happy lot compared to their counterparts in more developed regions of the world. New economic thinking is a pursuit in search of greater happiness, or growth that ensures happiness rather than fathomless statistical numbers that make no sense to ordinary citizens. The new idea is fast catching up, politicians are using it, UN has accepted it and economists are struggling to give it a theoretical template.
Can an election be fought and won on a plank of universal happiness? Perhaps, Narendra Modi can in Gujarat, considering the phenomenal social emancipation along with economic development he has achieved in the last one decade of his rule. Logically, the next step is a heightened sense of happiness. The NDA’s Shining India in a sense was a part attempt at popularising welfarism as a political slogan. Poor articulation, boisterous neo rich rhetoric and pro-rich image fuelled by irresponsible privatization talk of a section of the then ruling elite failed that novel experiment.
Now the growth is falling. There is wide despair. Poverty is growing. Income gap is widening. We have almost taken towards a US style growth, which Joseph Stiglitz describes as killing the middle class. GDP is becoming unattractive. What succeeded are failed reform, cronyism, price rise, corruption and misrule. This actually defines the UPA. Now a credible promise to provide happiness to massive majority of Indians is an idea whose time has come. This is not something this columnist has invented.
In a recent book, The Politics of Happiness, Derek Bok, makes an interesting analysis of the use of the concept of maximising societal happiness as a tool of political campaign. It is yet to take roots in India, but in the West, many economists have explained that the index of human development is a more accurate matrix than GDP to understand growth.
GlobeScan, a research firm based in Canada and London, surveyed 1000 people each in ten countries excluding the United States. When asked whether health, social and environmental status should figure in measures of national progress as much as economic data, between 70 per cent (Russia) and 86 per cent (France) agreed (GlobeScan 2007). Countries like Bhutan have been measuring growth through the gross happiness index. There are others who think the real indicator should be the happy planet index (HPI) which takes into account the environmental costs of development. The United States ranks 114 on the HPI and the United Kingdom 74. Costa Rica is on top of the list as it has long life expectancy, high life satisfaction and a per capital ecological footprint, one-fourth the size of the United States. The debate has widened to suggest that GDP should be replaced by the genuine progress indicator (GPI) which takes into account everything the GDP uses, but adds other figures that represent the cost of the negative effects related to economic activity–the cost of crime, cost of ozone depletion and cost of resource depletion, among others—which India is of late a major victim. The GPI nets the positive and negative results of economic growth to examine whether or not it has benefited the common man. The concept is explained in some detail in Tracking Globalisa-tion, a compilation volume edited by JS Sodhi and whose contributors include, eminent economists Jagdish Bhagawati, Meghnad Desai, Edmund Phelps, Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and others. Canada, for instance, is using GPI, and the United States since 1995 is enamoured. However, both these countries still report their economic information in GDP to remain in line with the more widespread practice. Although GPI and GDP calculations are based on the same personal consumption data, GPI provides adjustment factors, variables designed to apply monetary values to non-monetary aspects of the economy. The variables include personal consumption, income distribution (GPI is adjusted upward when a greater percentage of the nation’s income goes to the poor. GPI is adjusted downward when the majority of a nation’s increased income goes to the rich as it happens in the US and India). Housework, (GPI factors in the value of the labour that goes into housework and the benefit of increasingly educated population), money spent on durable goods is treated as a cost, while the value the purchases provide is treated as a benefit, long-lasting goods that provide benefits without having to be frequently repurchased are viewed positively. Goods that wear out quickly and drain consumers’ wallets when they must be replaced are viewed negatively.
GDP, on the other hand, view all expenditures as good news. Infrastructure spending by the government is treated in a similar manner: if spending provides a long- lasting benefit, GPI views it as positive; if spending drains the government’s coffers, GPI views it as a negative. Rising crime costs money in legal fees, medical bills, replacement costs and other outlays. GDP views this spending as a positive development. GPI treats it as negative. When wetlands or forests are destroyed by economic activity, GDP views the events as good news for the economy; GPI views these events as bad news for future generations. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, had commissioned a report in 2008 by twenty-five social scientists, including Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, to find alternatives to ‘GDP fetishism’. The report is divided into three parts. The first deals with the criticism of GDP as a measure of well-being. GDP does not take into account the depreciation of capital goods, and so overstates the value of production. (Tracking Globalisation).
The experience of globalisation in India has shown that those who do not have assets, are not educated. They are wage earners. Unskilled have been the major losers in the process of globalisation. The proportion of such people is very high as 94 per cent of the workforce is employed in the informal sector.
The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data for 2004-05 said that 27.5 per cent of the population was below the poverty line. The Planning Commission’s Tendulkar Report (2009) puts it as high as 37.2 per cent. More important, almost 74 per cent of the population lives on below one dollar a day. Urban poverty declined slower than the total poverty and that of the rural areas. The share of urban poor in Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh increased from 61.6 per cent in 1983 to 70 per cent in 1993-94 and to 76 per cent in next two decades. The dispersion of growth rates around the average in the 1980s (pre-reform) was less than it was in the post-reform period. Poverty is directly associated with material deprivation along with a range of other deprivations like lack of voice, destitution, social and political exclusion.
When Bhutan introduced the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ the cynics smirked and the others nodded in approval. Can there be anything ‘gross’ about happiness? Can it be measured? These were the natural questions. Well, may be not, but on the whole well being of the people can be gauged. Not from the rate of growth of income or the purchasing power of the individual but from the feeling one gets while ploughing through one’s daily rigmarole. If you have more things to smile about today than, say two years ago. In the book, The Politics of Happiness Derek Bok explores the way in which the governments can incorporate the happiness factor in their planning and policy making. The ultimate aims of which would be to increase the over-all well-being of the people and improve their quality of life. Surveys had indicated that Indians are way below in world ranking in quality of life. We come 78th.
Derek Bok says that after 35 years of research into ‘happiness’ the researchers have been able to come up with some ways by which the governments and policymakers can alter the plans to give maximum benefit to the people. It is not money alone that gives happiness. In which case he says the countries that grew fastest should be the happiest, but it is not so. Though the book is America-centric, most of which he has said is applicable to all societies. Bhutan has recognised four pillars for calculating the Gross National Happiness. They are: Good governance and democratisa-tion, stable and equitable socio-economic development, environmental protection and preservation of culture.
Income inequalities are wide and getting wider after globalisation. Same as Stiglitz complains about the US. From 1973 to 2000, the most affluent 20 per cent Americans increased their income by 61.6 per cent, six times faster than the poorest 20 per cent (10.3 per cent). By the end of the century, the richest one per cent claimed a share of the national income not equalled since the 1920s.
Indians believe that beyond the materialistic comforts, happiness comes from family bonding and social relations. But votaries of globalisation, retail FDI create the misimpressions among people that they would be happy if they added to their life comforts. Luring to consumerism a vast barrage of commercial advertising reinforces the continuing desire for more goods and services by emphasizing the immediate enjoyment they will bring. Since the corporate interest dictate the power circuit the governments tend to back and pass those legislations and draw such policies that help the elite, Factors that contribute to sustained happiness like education, health and issues like marriages and child-rearing are ignored, The new age politician is the one with the courage to discard and dismiss time warped policies.