The Economy of Gross National Happiness

OXFORD – On April 2, the United Nations hosted a High-Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-Being in New York. Conceived by the government of the Kingdom of Bhutan, and supported by 68 UN member states, the meeting was conducted against the tumultuous backdrop of global financial crisis, catastrophic climate change, widespread poverty, and the rise of neuroeconomics – factors that have jolted the status quo and brought economics to a crossroads.

The meeting was called to catalyze mounting efforts to create a new economic paradigm grounded in sustainability and dedicated to human well-being, building on Bhutan’s innovative approach, which aims not for GDP growth, but for gains in gross national happiness (GNH). Bhutan’s holistic approach takes into account material, social, spiritual, and environmental factors, measured according to the GNH index.

Indeed, Bhutan’s example gives the international community a unique opportunity to reconsider the path of economics in order to facilitate human flourishing on a shared planet. Three topics must be addressed to drive the discussion forward.

First, the focus must be on the big picture. For too long, economics has ignored ethical considerations. As Tony Atkinson points out in his article “The Strange Disappearance of Welfare Economics,” economic analysis must take into account how proposed policies help people to thrive. Today, as governments around the world cut their budgets, the need for a clear moral basis for economic policymaking is more pressing than ever.