22 Jul Happiness has a real economic role to play
Happiness has a real economic role to play
By Lu Chun-wei ê__ã_Ô_ê_Ô_ê‰Ô_ã
Saturday, Jul 21, 2007
Discussion and research on “development” emerged in the middle of the 20th century. Since World War II the focus of international attention has been development in developing countries. And since the implementation of the “First UN Development Decade” by the UN General Assembly in the 1960s, development has become a prominent research topic. However, the concept has shifted from concentrating on GDP growth to more comprehensive social, environmental and economic conditions.
Beginning in the 1970s, with the expansion of the meaning of development, the focus shifted from developing countries to developed Western countries. Concepts such as quality of life and indexes of happiness or well-being began to be proposed. Researchers in psychology, economics, sociology and public policy studied the topic.
With this perspective, people realized that economic growth should not be the goal of life. It is merely a means of promoting human happiness. After distinguishing the ends from the means, academic circles began to conduct studies on the relationship between the sense of happiness in people and economic growth.
Many studies have been conducted on the impact of economic growth on happiness. For example, a study by the University of Leicester ranked Bhutan as the planet’s eighth-happiest place. Nevertheless, statistics generally show that the more developed a nation’s economy is, the happier its people feel. This shows that a sense of happiness relies to a degree on economic development. But beyond that point, the marginal utility of material wealth will diminish.
Well-being index studies show that the meaning of happiness is not limited to the subjective sense of happiness. It also includes objective appraisals of living and development conditions. In other words, the concept of happiness has a material level of social welfare and economic conditions as its foundation, as well as the non-material level of things like culture, education, social networks and the living environment.
The relationship between social welfare and economic growth — that is, whether or not economic growth is hindered in welfare states — is still undergoing scrutiny. However, the experiences of northern European nations have partially shown that they can be complementary.
As for the non-material aspect, a study by economist Charles Tolbert and others in 1998 found that in the age of globalization, a place’s socio-economic structure will determine whether it prospers or declines. They found that higher rates of civic participation were conducive to better operation of local economic systems, which results in a greater sense of socioeconomic happiness.
Faced with competition from low-cost production in China and other large developing nations, Taiwan’s production-driven economic development model can’t be sustained. Some specialists have thus suggested development of a “knowledge economy.” People are the key to such a plan. This more humanistic approach is the main difference to the “world factory” model.
However, to “let people be people,” a healthy culture, educational framework, social network and living environment are important support systems.
Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel laureate in economics and a public and international affairs professor at Princeton University, says the goal of public policy is not to maximize GDP, but rather to increase happiness.
Economic growth is one way of doing so. It is a necessary condition, but not the only one. We should not forget the big picture, and avoid being taken in by worshipping GDP.