The new economics foundation has published a second edition of the ‘Happy Planet Index‘, its groundbreaking new measure of success. Rather than counting economic activity, as GDP does, the HPI measures the ‘ecological efficiency’ of an economy.
The countries that do best are delivering long, happy and meaningful lives to its citizens, with a minimum of resources. The two have to go together – if people aren’t living good lives, the economy is failing. If they’re living good lives at an unsustainable level, the economy is simply failing in the longer term, as the next generation will not have good lives.
Count GDP, and the US and the Western nations are the most successful. We’re also responsible for climate change, which makes GDP a desperately inadequate way of judging success. If you look beyond size and examine the efficiency of an economy, you get a very different picture. Ranked for a combination of life expectancy, life satisfaction and ecological footprint together, the top country is Costa Rica.
In fact, nine out of the top ten countries on the HPI are in South America. The bottom ten are all, alas, in Africa, with Zimbabwe taking up the rear with just 16 points out of a possible 100.
Where does the UK fall, I here you ask?
The point of all this is of course to show that ‘good lives don’t have to cost the earth’. Happiness and satisfaction do not depend on gross consumption of the earth’s resources. Costa Ricans live longer than Americans are more fulfilled, with a footprint one quarter the size.
We all know intuitively that there is more to life than the pursuit of wealth, but somehow we run our economies in defiance of that simple wisdom. For decades, possibly centuries, the pursuit of growth has been the one guiding principle of economics. If it remains a guiding principle, it will kill us. The Happy Planet Index proves it doesn’t have to be that way. All the evidence is there. The will needs to follow.
“The unwavering pursuit of economic growth – embodied in the overwhelming focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – has left over a billion people in dire poverty, and has not notably improved the well-being of those who were already rich, nor even provided us with economic stability. Instead it has brought us straight to the cliff edge of rapidly diminishing natural resources and unpredicable climate change.”