From GDP to GNH

A paper used as the basis for a debate with Woking U3A People Politics & Society Group in March 2015


U3A PP&S – March 2015

A Happiness Index?

Good afternoon folks and welcome to our discussion on ‘Should happiness and not money be a measure of a country’s success?’ I realize that many of you will be skeptical about this as indeed am I. But we are holding this discussion because it seemed a natural and intriguing follow on to the previous discussion about Is The UK a Paradise.

As usual feel free to join in and make points or raise questions as we go along.


I have to say that when sitting down in my office to prepare for this I thought “what have I let myself in for?” and had what you might call discussion-leaders-block. This is because the subject of measuring happiness and making it a political goal seemed to be so tenuous and ephemeral compared to what is generally seen as the really ‘serious business’ of measuring economic success with Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But once I got going I could see there is a lot of merit in the subject. So please bear with me and enjoy what comes next. Above all don’t shoot the messenger.

We will talk about:

why Happiness,

what do economic metrics really measure,

and some current programmes for measuring happiness or something like Happiness.


By the way there is one country in the world where Happiness is a defined goal for the administration. That country is Bhutan – of which more later.


Now, looking at how people in general talk about money and happiness there is I would say, apart from Gordon “Greed is good”, Gekko, Michael Douglas’s character in the film Wall Street, an overwhelming sentiment in our culture that happiness matters.

A few selective quotes might help make the point:

I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love

Can’t buy me love, everybody tells me so

Can’t buy me love, no no no, no”


That of course comes from the Beatles. But on a more spiritual level

how about St. Paul writing to Timothy?

1 Timothy 6:10

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.


Or Jesus famously quoted by St. Matthew

“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24


Or according to Oscar Wilde in Lady Windermere’s Fan a cynic is;

“a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”


As much of our political debate centres on money and GDP, i.e. the price of everything, does that make politicians cynics? Or is it we who are the cynics since politicians are supposed to respond to what we the voters want.

Let us pause here so that I can ask – What do you think about what our culture is telling us about money and happiness? What examples can you give either way? Please hold off for now asking if Happiness is measurable or even a desirable goal for society. We will get to that in a while.



Ok then. Thanks for your contributions.


By the way, here’s another popular song on the subject of money Vs happiness.

“I got the one I love

I got the moon & stars above

I got my youth & my health

What do I want with wealth?”

Can you guess where that came from?


It continues…..

“Money is the root of all evil

Won’t contaminate myself with it

Take it away, take it away, take it away”

That was originally an Andrews Sisters number but I only recall it as Billy Cotton Band Show one.


Anyway, moving right along………….


If you agree that money is just one part, a crucial part it has be said, of what makes life worthwhile, why does there seem to be no measure for what does makes all of life worthwhile? After all we see Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP Per Capita, and Purchasing Power Parity measures argued about in financial and learned journals. There is one such argument going on right now between the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Financial Times. This debate from the IEA point of view centres on their belief that even the well established GDP measure is highly misleading, misleading in that it distorts the facts around how well some economies are doing, and indeed according to some it leads us, that is you and I and our fellow citizens, into allowing the wrong judgements to be made on our behalf in how to run the country and indeed the world.




Rank Country/Region GDP (Millions of US$)
   World 72,689,734
1  United States 16,768,100
2  China 9,181,204
3  Japan 4,898,532
4  Germany 3,730,261
5  France 2,806,432
6  United Kingdom 2,678,455
7  Brazil 2,243,854
8  Italy 2,149,485
9  Russia 2,096,774
10  India 1,937,797
11  Canada 1,838,964
12  Australia 1,531,282
13  Spain 1,358,263
14  South Korea 1,304,554
15  Mexico 1,259,201
16  Indonesia 868,346
17  Netherlands 853,539
18  Turkey 822,149
19  Saudi Arabia 748,450
20   Switzerland 685,434
21  Argentina 611,726
22  Sweden 579,680
23  Poland 525,863
24  Belgium 524,806
25  Norway 522,349
26  Nigeria 514,965
27  Iran 492,783
28  Taiwan 489,089
29  Austria 428,322
30  Thailand 420,167
31  United Arab Emirates 402,340
32  Colombia 378,148
33  Venezuela 371,339
34  South Africa 366,060
35  Denmark 336,701
36  Malaysia 312,434
37  Singapore 295,744
38  Israel 291,567
39  Chile 277,043
 Hong Kong 274,027
40  Philippines 272,067







GDP Per Capita


Rank Country Int$
1  Qatar 145,894
2  Luxembourg 90,333
3  Singapore 78,762
4  Brunei 73,823
5  Kuwait 70,785
6  Norway 64,363
7  United Arab Emirates 63,181
8  San Marino[6][7] 62,766
9   Switzerland 53,977
10  United States 53,001
 Hong Kong 52,984
11  Saudi Arabia 51,779
12  Bahrain 49,633
13  Netherlands 46,440
14  Australia 45,138
15  Ireland 44,663
16  Austria 44,402
17  Germany 43,475
18  Sweden 43,407
19  Oman 43,304
20  Canada 43,253
21  Denmark 43,080
22  Republic of China (Taiwan) 41,539
23  Iceland 41,001
24  Belgium 40,760
25  Finland 40,045
26  France 39,813
27  Japan 36,654
28  United Kingdom 36,208
29  Italy 34,103
30  Korea, South 33,791
31  Equatorial Guinea 33,767
32  New Zealand 33,626
33  Israel 32,717
34  Spain 31,942
35  Malta 30,567
36  Trinidad and Tobago 30,197
37  Cyprus 28,748
38  Slovenia 28,512
39  Czech Republic 27,347
40  Slovakia 26,61





























Looking at Gross Domestic Product, GDP, which tries to measure the economic activity of a country, or GDP Per Capita which measures the individual’s economic activity, we have to ask if these metrics are worthwhile or trustworthy. Some of you have said before how GDP is misleading since it does not take into account those countries that are tax havens or have a lot of super rich, or those countries where ‘the living is easy’. This is where Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) comes into play as it tries to smooth out differences between countries. Properly used this metric comes up with very different results to GDP, Hence the debates mentioned earlier.

Now, please do excuse the continuing lecture on economics principals but I need to ensure we are aligned on what PPP – Purchasing Power Parity is.

PPP helps to minimize misleading international comparisons that can arise with the use of market exchange rates. For example, suppose that two countries produce the same physical amounts of goods as each other in each of two different years. Since market exchange rates fluctuate substantially, when the GDP of one country measured in its own currency is converted to the other country’s currency using market exchange rates, one country might be inferred to have higher real GDP than the other country in one year but lower in the other; both of these inferences would fail to reflect the reality of their relative levels of production. But if one country’s GDP is converted into the other country’s currency using PPP exchange rates instead of observed market exchange rates, the false inference will not occur.


Thus some countries who are in The Economics Premier League of Countries on a GDP basis would get relegated to the Conference League on a PPP basis; and they would almost certainly complain a lot about it.

The interesting thing is, if this were to occur, it is only the measure or perception that has changed, the reality of how well a country is doing is unchanged. So why get upset?

In political terms it could mean less clout at the negotiating tables and hence less power, and no politician willingly gives up a place at a conference table. After all if you are a leader of a country in the Economics Premier League you want to stay there. So why change from one reassuring measure to another less reassuring one?

Here’s why a change is needed; using the GDP metric Italy is ranked ahead of India putting it in the Premier League but if PPP were used Italy would slide down the league table behind India, which is understated in GDP terms by 15%, like wise China at 19% and Russia at 25%. You can bet many other countries, including ours, would slide up and down the leagues and thus lose international clout. This is why there is not much support for any change. YET. For my part I cannot see how this sate of affairs can continue. The change will happen, and it needs leadership to see it through with out too much disruption.


What has all this got to do with Happiness? Well I think if agreeing on a standard set of international economic metrics is tricky, how difficult is it to do Happiness and is it worth it?

Comments please?


I would maintain that using empirical and substantive but accurate metrics is most certainly needed as they help guide economic plans. But as the many examples given have shown being what we call well to do, or comfortably off, wealthy, rich, richer or mega rich, does not satisfy us all. The other parts of life like health and well being need addressing too. In fairness to political parties they do try to do this but fail because there are no standards for agreeing what healthiness or well being really are. So they all talk in their own terms using their own perceptions of healthiness and wellbeing. They seem to speak different languages, so is it any wonder then that they disagree all the time? This is why we the citizen and voter get confused about their intentions, so perhaps should consider a redefining of what we want from our politicians.


Because GDP only measurements may be misleading people like Paul Hawkens; a noted environmental entrepreneur, says At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP”. Or as Herbert Hoover succinctly put it in 1936 Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”


Whatever the outcome of that debate shouldn’t there be a similar debate in the media and in academe about Happiness?


Now I want to take us back to Bhutan, not ‘Back to Bataan’, the John Wayne film.

Here I must give much credit to Wikipedia and the Bhutan government web pages.


The term “gross national happiness” was coined in 1972 by Bhutan‘s fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. He used this phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. The message being conveyed was that happiness is more important than economic development. Through the contribution of many western and eastern scholars the concept developed into a full socioeconomic development framework.

The Bhutanese grounding in Buddhist ideals suggests that beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. This may seem esoteric but bear with me please as I explain it is based on some sound principals or pillars. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

At this level of generality, the concept of GNH is transcultural in that a nation need not be Buddhist to value these factors. These four pillars are further defined into eight general contributors to happiness—physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.

Although the GNH framework reflects its Buddhist origins, it is solidly based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well-being.


Subsequently after many years of development the GNH policy now serves as Bhutan’s unifying vision to guide the economic and development plans of the country.

Proposed policies in Bhutan must pass a GNH review based on a GNH impact statement that is similar in nature to the Environmental Impact Statement required for development in the U.S..

Can you imagine how that would work in the UK? Political policies and programmes tied to the agreed broad social and economic goals of the country? If they do not match then such policies are dumped. Wow!


Well actually something similar does happen here in Woking and South East where the County, Borough and Neighbourhood long term plans are used to determine what building developments are allowed. Many other boroughs across the UK do the same. It has to be said this is done mainly to control unwanted development in that if a developer puts forward plans that do not match the agreed long-term plan they can be rejected. Without a long-term plan the developers can ride rough shod over boroughs by forcing their own plans on them. Also the government planning Officers can only judge each development on its own merits regardless of its context or location, which is why it seems that developers too often get their own way. This of course is to do with buildings. But what if it were extended to a broader set of metrics?


At this point in the debate I want to draw the Economic and Happiness arguments together and examine what is perhaps possible.

And by the way if you think that nothing like this will happen I wonder if you know that the UK along with many European countries began in 2014 measuring National Well Being. You can see the reports on the Office of National Statistics web site. Interestingly they headline it “Measuring What Matters”


As a first step to measuring Happiness consider the work done by Legatum Institute

Legatum produces an annual report the ‘Prosperity Index’ which is more than GDP or PPP but less than Happiness.

The report explores six principles of prosperity that have been widely discussed and debated in both the academic and policy community, and have a strong relationship with both GDP and individual wellbeing. These six principles are: Opportunity; Education; Health; Freedom; Safety; and Social Values. Each principle is developed from at least 10 to 20 balancing data points creating 89 variables. Some are subjective and are developed from surveys, others are objective and are taken from international standard economic reports.



Legatum’s most recent report has the following top twenty placings: Note how few of the wealthiest GDP countries are listed.

  1. Norway,
  2. Switzerland
  3. New Zealand
  4. Denmark
  5. Canada
  6. Sweden
  7. Australia
  8. Finland
  9. Netherlands
  10. USA
  11. Iceland
  12. Ireland
  13. UK
  14. Germany
  15. Austria
  16. Luxembourg
  17. Belgium
  18. Singapore
  19. Japan
  20. Hong Kong




Cripes, I did not think the UK would get included. But there we are way out in front of the French who are in 21st place – that’s what matters doesn’t it? Beating the French. Who cares where the rest of the world is as long as we beat the French.

Have you noticed how the top six countries have lots of snow? Perhaps there is a correlation between prosperity and coldness?

But I digress. Back to Happiness


Another institute Healthways

has stepped into the more subjective territory of Happiness by commissioning Gallup to manage an annual global poll of 133,000 people to gauge how they feel about life. This is called The State of Global Well Being. It has some surprising outcomes that are worth discussion as they would add something to our debate.

It also turns on its head the Legatum prosperity index.

The Global Well-Being Index is organized into the five elements:

  • Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily.


Here are the results of the top and bottom ten countries:




And the UN has since 2011 asked each country to carry out a Happiness Survey. The global report is here


If we have not already discussed it, how achievable is this? What problems do you see with? Also what benefits?


So where does this leave us? On the one hand empirical measures of a country’s success, like GDP or PPP, or even Prosperity type indices, are very much needed because as management gurus tell us “if you cannot measure it then you cannot manage it”.

But beware “We tend to overvalue the things we can measure and undervalue the things we cannot.”

John Hayes


So perhaps these empirical measures together with measures of the meaningfulness of what has been achieved may be what are needed. However, any meaningfulness measure is probably where the charlatans could come in and take over the debate as such metrics may be easier to manipulate.



Let me conclude with Freud.


“It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Or ♪♫♬♬ ‘If you to be happy for the rest of your life’ ♫♫♫♫♬♪♪







And end papers




















What Makes To Me……

… Happy                       or                       Content










Growing up in the East End

As a test for myself I have started to write a memoir of early life in the East End. The first chapter is more or less complete although there is some polishing, editing and writing to do. Here’s an extract:-

An age of innocence?

Looking back over an East End childhood

Chapter I – One Big Family

In post war East End of London could be found a rambling set of Victorian tenement blocks with no inside lavatories many of which were shared by several families, with only cold water, some of it running down the damp walls, full of different generations of the same families. Located in Russia Lane, just off Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green in London’s East End Quinns Square was just a couple of miles and a world away from the wealth of the City of London.   Although it was declared a slum in the 1920’s as the 1940’s drew to a close it was still standing and was not knocked down until the 1960’s. An official history of the area states :”there had been deterioration in the east which c. 1930 included the lowest category, ‘degraded and semi-criminal’, around Quinn Square and Russia Lane”

It was into this environment on December 16th 1948  that I was born, the second child of Charles Whitehand and Doris Ellen Page.

Continues in the attached.  An age of Innocence

Beatles Vs The Stones

A copy of an email from a debate about sixties music.

Well here we go chaps my four pennyworth on this subject.

I must say that I still like some Beatles music particularly the second and third albums, and Abbey Road is the killer one for me. I still play that one. Love the second side from ‘She Came In Thru The Bathroom Window’.  But the singles, Yeh, Yeh Yeh and all that are a bit twee now. As for the Stones I guess they were always a boys band in that they had more rawness and energy on record than the Beatles who always had a big female following. For instance my wife Melanie went with her friend Christine to Heathrow airport to welcome them back from the first USA trip. I keep looking for her in the crowds when the film footage is shown on tv but to no avail.
For the basic difference between the two bands just listen to their two different versions of ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’. The Beatles version is twee and just a filler for Ringo.

The Stones take it by the scruff of its neck and give it power and guts.

It seems to me the Beatles lacked the insight on that song to turn it into something whereas Richards did. Although credit where credit’s due. They did write it.
But the Beatles did have Mr Humorous Records, George Martin as producer and I guess he ‘sweetened’ up their stuff somewhat. Whereas the Stones were their own men from day one, and were egged on by Andrew Oldham, hence the power and rawness of their material. Just by coincidence I have found on iTunes today  a complete set of original blues that inspired the Stones. It is worth getting as there are 50 tracks for a fiver. That’s a bargain if ever there was one. I am playing it right now and from this hearing you can see that the although the Stones did not have the original inspiration for the music, on many versions  they improved on them. You can find it at ‘Blues Classics That Inspired The Stones’. Worth getting and adding to the collection.
The trouble with further comparison of the two is after Exile On Main Street the Stones plateaued and although a few good tracks came out. ‘Waiting On A Friend’ or ‘Miss You’ for instance. The majority of the later music is boring and same again type. As for The Beatles after the ‘Let It Be’ album, that required major work from producers and engineers, the Beatles did nothing as a band. John did ‘Imagine’ and a couple of other amusing tracks – by which time he was a diety and anything he did according to many of the music cognisente was above reproach. I beg to differ. He was a self indulgent bore. Macca did ‘Ram’ with some inspirational stuff like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ on that, after which he did ditties and pretty stuff and now is an embarrassment to watch. George The Dark Horse was the best post-Beatles Beatle. His music was deep and adventurous and still sounds great. I love the sentiments in the lyrics. George had or found soul – bless him.
I have read Richards book and agree it is well written. But he has a fuck-you-attitude that I have to say I find hard to take. Add to that the casualties from drug deaths around him over the years and I think he is not a nice human being. But a great musician. Jagger does indeed have Sympathy for The Devil. He’s corporate man if ever there was one. Very clever and astute. Surprisingly a good singer too at his age – although the last Glastonbury tv film showed a poor side of his singing. When I saw him live he was astonishing. My daughter who was at Glasto says the same. How do they survive?
I have also read some time ago Bill Wyman’s band biography book along with a music magazine that dedicated an issue to the Stones and although these articles did not do so directly I think bear out my views about the Stones pernicious influence on others.
That being said we were privileged to be around when this music was made. It was so exciting. You knew what was coming up next. I remember pre-ordering ‘Sergeant Pepper’ from the local record store and playing it endlessly. Can it be said that kids today do that with their new music?
On a broader topic – in the old days our access to music was narrow and difficult in that with BBC dominated broadcasting we only had a few programmes on tv or radio that had up to date but mainstream music. Can you remember variety programmes with Dickie Valentine, Denis Lotus, Alma Cogan and visiting Americans like Guy Mitchell or Johnnie Ray, as our staple music fodder. If you wanted real music you had to get hold of a good radio and play Radio Luxembourg or Hilversum on the medium wave band at night – see Van Morrison ‘Days Before Rock and Roll’. I remember doing that with my mate Johnny Fraser who had a good medium wave band radio which we could record onto his Grundig reel to reel. He was ‘rich’ – only child and two working parents. The closed market to music at that time meant that we had to actively seek out music of our own by borrowing mates records, or cruising catalogues and pre-ordering, like I did with a Stones EP first published in France or Fats Domino stuff, or standing out side the local pub on a Saturday night when locals would sing songs of the day along with the pub pianist. My mum used to be  a big draw at our local The Good Intent. She could really sing.
As I was too young to get in most places I used to go with older mates to places like La Discoteque (became The Flamingo at 11pm) in Wardour Street to see bands or the ’59 Club’ in Hackney that was run by a local motor biking vicar where I saw Screaming Lord Sutch.
Now as we old farts are prone to say  – “You Youngsters Don’t Know How Lucky You Are. Music is everywhere”..
Things began to improve for us with the advent of Pirate radio and then Radio One. But even then you had put up with Tony Slimeball Blackburn and others of his ilk, The Smashy’s and Nicey’s of the day. It was only John Peel on Sunday afternoons who had anything really worth listening too for the entire programme. I can still see myself with Melanie sitting on the grass in the local park with her dad’s portable radio, that she had smuggled out of the flat, on a warm Sunday listening to Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’. We had to get it back by tea time for The Archers or something he liked listening to or all hell would break loose. Those were the days.

How to use the internet for change – become an eEmpowered Citizen

This is a talk given to the University of 3rd Age. It is in two parts, the first is in support of an open discussion about The Internet Good or Bad? The second has some new/ish web sites recommended for the use of those who wish to be more engaged in issues at the local, country and global levels. I hope you find it interesting.

The powerpoint version has notes attached which will help the reader navigate the pages.

The Internet – U3A Feb 2014     The Internet – U3A Feb 2014

The End Of The World Is Nigh – well not quite

This post has two presentations given to discussion groups, The University of the 3rd Age Politics and People Group, and Woking Conservatives Political Discussion Group. Read, fret, worry, but above all question what is going on.

Do We Need A Bigger Boat –  

U3A Is life a box of chocolates?

That apocalyptic song was from 40 nearly 50 years ago. What it postulated has not completely cmd about, thank God. Let’s keep talking.