Readers' reactions

January 1, 1999

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Andrew Oswald suggested that governments should measure people's happiness rather than the country's gross domestic product Andrew Oswald proposes an index of the "gross happiness level" to replace measures such as GDP. Not only is this an arbitrary measure, it also hides the political nature of policy decisions.

It is interesting to hear such an index proposed by an economist. Economics has long defended the use of money measures of wellbeing. Indeed, the justification for cost-benefit analysis was that it provided a common measure for all social life, enabling policy decisions to be simplified.

The critiques applied to CBA will also apply to the new index. The weightings given to various elements in the index will be subject to fierce debate, such as employment vis-a-vis the environment, or wealth vis-a-vis justice. These are political decisions. A quality of life index hides these political decisions in the weightings given for different criteria.

What is needed is not more measures of the quality of life, but a participatory democracy based on citizenship and community to replace the centralised power system we have.

If Oswald wishes to know what people want, why not ask them?

John Mulberg, Associate lecturer with the Open University and author of Social Limits to Economic Theory

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