Tight on the heels of my piece Freedom and Equality comes this bit of news out of France (via Eternity Road):
PARIS (AP) -- What price happiness? French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking an answer to the eternal question -- so that happiness can be included in measurements of French economic growth."Seem" being the operative word here. And if two Nobel-winning economists are involved in it, they ought to have their medals revoked.
He's turned to two Nobel economists to help him, hoping that if happiness is added to the count, the persistently sluggish French economy may seem more rosy.
"It reflects a general feeling in Europe that says, 'OK, the U.S. has been more successful in the last 20, 25 years in raising material welfare, but does this mean they are happier?'" said Paul de Grauwe, economics professor at Leuven University in Belgium.Meaning "we envy the Americans their cars, their homes, their plasma TVs, their..."
"The answer is no, because there are other elements to happiness," said Grauwe, once a candidate for the European Central Bank governing council.And now you know why he didn't get the job.
In terms of gross domestic product, the internationally recognized way of measuring the size of an economy, French growth lagged behind the U.S. throughout most of the 1980s and '90s and in every year since 2001.What?? In that socialist worker's paradise which has the best universal health care system in the world??
How can that be?!?!?
Although recent turmoil in financial markets may hit the U.S. economy harder, the loss of speed in the world economy's biggest player will also drag down growth in France. Economists say growth may fall short of the government targets this year.Read that: "Growth may fall short of the already lackluster targets this year."
Sarkozy's move raised questions about whether he wants to ward off disappointing growth numbers as a rise in oil and food prices combined with a slowdown in the U.S. clouds the effect of his economic reforms.He's got nothing else up his sleeve.
Since his election in May he has sought to boost growth, notably by encouraging people to work longer than the much maligned 35-hour week.A move I'm certain that has gone over about as well as changing the law to allow employers to fire slackers did.
Sarkozy has often appeared impatient with the French economy's lackluster performance, once declaring: "I will not wait for growth, I will go out and find it.""And failing that, I will fake it!"
Frustrated with the what he termed Tuesday "the growing gap between statistics that show continuing progress and the increasing difficulties (French people) are having in their daily lives,"...otherwise known as reality...
Sarkozy said new thought should be given to the way GDP is calculated to take into account quality of life....and free market economics...
At a news conference Tuesday, Sarkozy said he asked U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel economics prize and a critic of free market economists,
and Armatya Sen of India, who won the 1998 Nobel prize for work on developing countries, to lead the analysis in France.Which is now relegated to the status of a "developing country."
Sen helped create the United Nations' Human Development Index, a yearly welfare indicator designed to gear international policy decisions to take account of health and living standards.Would that include measures like ones that rank countries higher if their health care systems are paid for by the State, regardless of how well they perform?
Once the preserve of philosophers, measuring happiness has now become a hot topic in economics.Where it absolutely doesn't belong.
Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. But experts often think so. The narrower their field of knowledge the more likely they are to think so.Obviously that never stopped anyone.
A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development considers taking into account leisure time and income distribution when calculating a nation's well-being.Right. So if all the money is equally distributed and nobody works, that's the best possible score?
And the European Commission is working on a new indicator that moves "beyond GDP" to account for factors such as environmental progress.Words. Fail. Me.
Richard Layard, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of the 2005 book "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science," said Sarkozy may be seeking recognition for policies, popular in Europe, that promote well-being but don't show up in the GDP statistics.They "don't want to think" it, eh? Sounds familiar. Over here they call themselves the "reality-based community."
Governments are rated on economic performance, and this influences policy in favor of boosting GDP, the value of goods and services produced over a calendar year, he said.
"But people don't want to think they live in a world of ruthless competition where everyone is against everyone," Layard said. "Valuable things are being lost, such as community values, solidarity."
His book shows that depression, alcoholism and crime have risen in the last 50 years, even as average incomes more than doubled.And taxes have done... what, exactly?
Jean-Philippe Cotis, the former OECD chief economist who took over as head of France's statistics office Insee two months ago, said Wednesday that a measure of happiness would complement GDP by taking into account factors such as leisure time -- something France has a lot of.Which explains why their growth is so slow.
And I'm not even an economist!
France's unemployment rate is stubbornly high, and when French people do work they spend less time on the job -- 35.9 hours per week compared with the EU average of 37.4.And the American average of...? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Cotis said he looked forward to a "passionate" debate beyond the traditional realms of his science.Especially since they are totally unable to quantify it.
"Statisticians are also interested in happiness," he said.
And so, it would seem, are presidents.Ditto.
Basking in the happy glow of new love with model-turned-singer Carla Bruni, Sarkozy showed on Tuesday that his concern for happiness is universal.I've seen pictures of his babe. YOWSA! You can bet HE'S happy.
A president, he said, "doesn't have more right to happiness than anyone else, but not less than anyone, either."
But just remember one thing, Sarko. No matter how beautiful she is, someone somewhere is tired of her shit. (I kid! I kid!)