Gross national happiness and the truth about policy

snakeMy wife is scared stiff of snakes. The passing of a large python along our back deck one evening had her stomping down stairs to the laundry for months. She still carries that wariness with her.

Just as seemingly continuous sweeping around the African rondavel meant you could see the mamba before it could strike you, so a general fear of slithering things has a survival benefit.

Fear of snakes makes perfect evolutionary sense. Those with the ability to avoid such dangers will survive longer than the more blasé. Often this trait can translate across to a fear of nature in general on the logic that snakes, mosquitos, siders, scorpions, wasps… just about anything that bites, stings, or looks like a critter that bites or stings, could be under any rock.

It is a surprise that nature in the form of woodland and forest equates to happiness and could become part of the ‘GDP plus’ approach to measuring national well-being — the elusive gross national happiness index.

The survival instinct that took us away from forests into man-made buildings with fly screens is tempered by an emotional connection to the trees for their nurturing quality. A gentle breeze through the trees as the birds sing and the blossoms waft their scent across our senses has a calming effect — a counterbalance to the fear. Not to mention the sustenance from the deer and berries.

But give 1000 people a choice between either living rough in the forest for 30 days or living in an all expenses paid 5 star resort at the beach for a month and I would put money on 999 of them choosing the beach.

This creates an interesting conundrum for GDP plus.

If people prefer the hotel to the forest but are supposed to be happier in the forest, what should governments do? They could promote economic growth to give more people the money to stay at hotels or focus on retaining the forests that might otherwise have to make way for the hotels and money-making activities.

Put in these terms the choice seems far too simplistic yet it actually goes to the heart of policy making. Policy has to understand values and then decide on trade-offs among them. How much more should economic development be valued over the protection of rainforest is a question of values. Building new hotels is a decision to trade commercial and comfort values against the benefits of the wind in the trees, the filtering of air and water, and the odd forest product.

What the policy makers must remind themselves every day is that the values traded are inseparable. They exist together in each person. The 999 folk who chose to go to the beach also value the forest even if they don’t choose to go there, even for a visit. It is true that our value for nature and its nurture are often buried deep enough in our psyche for us to deny its existence, but it is there.

Policy is not actually about keeping enough stakeholders happy to ensure future election victory. It is about understanding where the real value trade-offs happen, inside each person. Even the ones that are buried or smothered by those from instant gratification.

People are frightened of snakes for good reason and yet deep down they also remember that nature is good to them too. Sometimes they even think of this as they sip cocktails by the pool.

What policy has to do is remind them of this truth.

$42 million

eveI was told that the recent ‘break the internet’ image of Kim Kardashian’s rear netted her a royalty of $42 million. A tidy sum that brings new meaning to a woman’s assets.

Now it is important not to believe everything that you hear or read on the damaged interweb. So I doubt very much that the fee was as bootilicious as the behind.

All we can be sure of is that the butt was not revealed for free and mere mortals will never know the actual amount of moolah exchanged.

When my brain had had enough of curvy bits I began to think up things you could do with $42 million.

Here are a few of them…

  • Pay one years salary for 17 premier league soccer players
  • Cover 10% of the bill for hosting the 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane
  • Buy roughly 6 months supply of coal for a 500 megawatt power station
  • Purchase a skinny latte for every man woman and child in Belgium
  • Fly first class around the world 8,400 times, or once with a lot of mates
  • Get a broker to secure a couple of 50m long luxury yachts
  • Acquire 68,000 ha of agricultural land and grow 300,000 t of wheat each and every year and donate the produce to famine relief charities [that is enough to meet the wheat consumption for 3 million people]
  • Purchase and make available first line anti-retroviral drugs for over 360,000 aids patients — 20% of the aids patients on Zimbabwe

If you had a famous behind, what would you do with $42 million?

Post comments.

Doors closing please stand clear

passenger trainIn life there are opportunities everywhere. It is possible to start a revolution, a company or a friendship almost anywhere at any time. All you need is enough energy and commitment.

It is a marvel of the human condition that the societies we create mostly facilitate this desire for opportunity that is in all of us. We even pen a plethora of self-help literature on the back of this universal potential. Books on positivity that show us the glass as half full to overflowing only sell because they catalyse our innate desire for opportunity.

Fair enough you say.

Such a hippy-dippy worldview may be upbeat but it is only part of the truth. There is the downside too.

The cheats, naysayers and greed infested abound to ruin many an opportunity with their negativity. The world is nothing if not two-sided. It always has enough ying and yang for everyone, even those with a library full of Tolle tomes.

I agree. Opportunity does exist for us all but so too does misfortune. Both are a heartbeat away.

Here is the thought. I suspect that those who cheer their way through life easily coping with misfortune and insatiably seeking opportunity know one crucial thing…

Doors closing please stand clear

In other words everything is transient. The opportunity will not be there forever any more than the misfortune. The doors will close on both so that new doors can be opened.

The human condition is honed to this flux.

We intuitively know that when an opportunity comes along it will only be there for a short time. Our chance at it is likely to be brief. We either act to grab the chance or we watch it pass by and say ‘better luck next time’.

In day-to-day life the loss of an opportunity is rarely life changing. There will be stories of the record producer who passed up the Beatles or a soccer manager who said no to signing Lionel Messi, but these are rare anecdotes. The frequency of opportunity in everyday life means that misses do not matter that much.

Not so with nations. They move more slowly and are less nimble in both recognising and taking opportunities. Leaders of nations must be much more alert to see opportunity on the horizon and position themselves and their constituents to be ready.

Australia for example has done very nicely out of wool and then minerals, especially iron ore and coal. It took these soft and hard commodity opportunities with both hands and has become wealthy as a result. Only to keep the wealth coming it needs to ready to grab the next opportunity. Current leadership seems to be doing the opposite and holding on tight to the past.

It’s a poor choice.