Category Archives: Social and Economic Systems

Freedom of Information: You Have Chydenius To Thank for That

This short post was originally published on the now-defunct website Worldchanging.com, in 2007. The story of Chydenius serves as a good reminder of the importance of maintaining a free press and the right of public access to government information — principles that seem increasingly under attack around the world. The text has been slightly updated.

Anders Chydenius (Wikipedia)

In 2016, the Finland-based Anders Chydenius Foundation celebrated the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Act. Sweden and Finland were one big empire in those days, and the Swedish-Finnish law — passed in 1766, two hundred years before a similar law was passed by the U.S. Congress and ensuring open access to all government papers and other kinds of information under a “principle of public access” — was largely the product of one man’s visionary ethical ideas.

Anders Cydenius was the Finnish political thinker and clergyman who proposed the “Law on Freedom of Information” as part of a set of political reforms that worked their way through the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) of its day.  Chydenius also wrote passionately about equality, free trade, universal human rights, liberal capitalism, and especially the rights of the poor. He is one of the most influential thinkers in the early development of the politics, economics, and values base for what has become known as the “Nordic Model.”

According to the short Wikipedia article about him, Chydenius “was also a scientist and skilled eye-surgeon, the maker of several inventions, a pioneer of vaccination in Finland and the founder of an orchestra.”

But apart from such short encyclopedia notices, it would be hard for an English-speaker to learn much about Chydenius. A modern biography by Finnish historian Pentti Virrankoski (Anders Chydenius: Democratic politician of the Enlightenment, 1986) appears not to be translated into English. Two books on Chydenius’s contributions to an open society and freedom of information have been published recently, by the relatively new Anders Chydenius Foundation; and these books (in Finnish and Swedish) include very short English summaries. But as one of the contributors notes, “there is no summary English account [of Chydenius work] directed toward an international public.”

I stumbled upon Chydenius while researching economic history. His work The National Gain (1765) preceded Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (widely considered the founding treatise of modern economics) by eleven years. Chydenius’ earlier work covered much of the same territory — including a description of the process that Smith would later call “the invisible hand.”

Even in this super-connected age, news sometimes travels slow.  While you probably never heard of him, Chydenius was an inspiring, world-changing figure. His ideas about openness and freedom have had a big impact on your life — and they continue to do so, especially every time you read the news.

“Conservation” meets “Green Growth”: The Push-Me-Pull-You problem

Pushmepullyou_wikipedia_sourced_smaller
A “pushmi-pullyu”, imagery via Wikipedia

Remember Dr. Dolittle? He was a vet who could talk to animals. One of the rarest was the “pushmi-pullyu,” a llama with two heads (one head was where the tail ought to be).

The pushmi-pullyu was a gentle creature that did not like to be stared at. And yet the other animals in Africa convinced him to go with the good Dr., and be put on display in Europe, because Dr. Dolittle was a kind soul who needed money to look after all the animals in his care.

Already you can begin guess why I chose this story to begin a commentary on two large conferences under way this week: the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, and the Global Green Growth Week in Jeju, South Korea.

Dr. Dolittle’s two-headed wonder is an obvious metaphor for the problem of trying to conserve nature while encouraging growth. If both heads want to go in opposite directions, nothing happens. If one head wins out, you get more of one thing (economic growth or nature) and less of the other.

In both congresses, the aim is to find win-win solutions, to “have your cake and eat it too.” The agendas even overlap to some extent: IUCN has sessions like “Driving green growth at a landscape level” while the Green Growth folks will explore topics like “Innovation in Water Governance and Conservation.”

But one would almost prefer that these groups were meeting together, rather than separately, because the overall impression from reviewing their respective agendas is that we still have a “pushmi-pullyu” problem. Green Growth is a wonderful innovation; but we have a long way to go before we can be confident that more of it will also lead to reversing the general decline of nature: species, ecosystems, and global climatic stability.

The Green Growth conference agenda is, of course, inspiring to an old “sustainability wonk” like me. It is covering wonderfully important topics like gender empowerment and new energy policies; and many friends are there. The conference is even debating the question “can economic growth be inclusive and green?”, which at least acknowledges that the jury is still out.

But that’s the conference for Green Growth thinkers. At the “summit” session for Green Growth policy-makers — ministers, bankers, insurance executives — the agenda reads quite differently. That agenda is entirely focused on money, with every session reading something like this: “Is International Green Finance Flowing to the countries and regions that need it?”

In other words, the folks with actual power are not talking much about the “green” part of the agenda, just the growth.

Meanwhile, the IUCN is meeting at a moment when the alarm bells for disappearing species and ecosystems have never rung louder. New research tells us that African elephants have lost 30% of their population in less than ten years. Four out of the six great apes are “one step away from extinction“. Those are the “charismatic megafauna”, but their plight reflects the general trend for nature: continued rapid decay.

The outlook for green growth is, frankly, much better than the outlook for nature. The Global Green Growth Institute’s budget has grown year on year, and the amount of money being invested in our world that carries some kind of “green” badge is definitely growing (“green bonds,” for example, have gone up from about US$ 11 billion in 2013 to 100 billion this year according to one forecast). I should be celebrating this revolution in investment, but the headlines from IUCN leave me feeling more sobered than celebratory.

Clearly, at the moment, the “growth” head of the global conservation/green growth push-me-pull-you is winning. “Nature” — a word that is not even mentioned in the Green Growth conference agenda, except as part of the phrase “natural resources” — is losing.

So I wish that some folks from the IUCN Hawaii gathering, with deep knowledge of these collapsing ecosystems, could be parachuted into the heart of the Green Growth summit. Of course I want green finance to grow; but I also want the people thinking about green finance — about finance and investment and economic growth generally — to spend equal amounts of time trying to reverse the “degrowth” in precious living creatures and irreplaceable ecosystems that I have observed over decades, from childhood enchantment to middle-age melancholy.

To be honest, I’m a little mad at Dr. Dolittle. He helped me fall in love with animals, which makes witnessing their disappearance all the more painful. (Bruce Cockburn, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter, has an amazing song about this: Beautiful Creatures.)

By the way, if you read the original Dr. Dolittle — you can read the whole 1920 book free online — you’ll discover it’s different from the sweet family movie that so captivated me in 1968, or the less-captivating Eddy Murphy remake from 1998. The book is full of disturbing racial stereotypes, as well as colonialist (as well as sexist) language about relations between Africa and the land of the White Men. It serves as a reminder of why we in the rich nations have a moral duty to take Africa’s development and conservation challenges very seriously.

In short, we still have a lot of work to do. We don’t need Dr. Dolittle. We need a whole army of “Dr. Do-a-Lots” — doing a lot more than we are doing now to save nature, transform the global economy, and reinvent “growth” as prosperity for all.

Before we lose the elephants, the apes, and much more besides.

 

 

 

The Economics Nobel: Should there be one?

The so-called “Nobel Prize” in economics (note that it is actually *not* a Nobel in the same way as the science, literature, and peace prizes) has awakened more than the usual amount of criticism this year.

EconomicNobelArticleThis Guardian article captures some of the usual complaints, quite well. The writer suggests a broadening out of the prize, to include all of social science, thus getting away from the prize’s tendency to reward technical/mathematical work that sustains the illusions that economics is a science like physics or chemistry. Ample evidence (which might even be called “scientific” evidence) demonstrates that it is not. Economics is a human construction, filled with human assumptions and values that have little relationship to the laws of nature.

But a leading Swedish social science researcher on the topic of corruption, Bo Rothstein, has taken the arguments against the prize one step further. In an article in the major Stockholm daily DN (Swedish only), Rothstein indicates that he planned to use his position in the Royal Academy of Sciences to initiate a formal inquiry as to whether the prize goes against the intent of Alfred Nobel’s will.

Rothstein’s point: research shows that people trained in what we call “economics” today are more likely to be corrupt, and the research has controlled for other factors: meaning it is the training, not other factors in the person’s background, that causes this significant difference in likelihood to become corrupt.

Rothstein’s conclusion is that an economic prize linked to “Nobel” may be promoting the conditions that create corruption in the world — which is quite against Nobel’s clear intentions, since corruption clearly makes the world a worse place and not a better one.

It will be interesting to see where Rothstein’s initiative, which is a serious thing given his prominence, ultimately leads.

New Sustainability “Model Calendar” for 2015!

ModelCalendar2015
Click to download – 4.5MB

If you are expecting photo-models, think again. This wonderful 2015 wall calendar — produced by the folks at Stockholm Resilience Center and Beijer Institute for Ecological Economics — is about conceptual models, the kinds of diagrams and think-pieces that help us understand the world.

And it is a gem. Here you will find twelve essential intellectual tools for thinking about sustainability, ecosystems, social systems, and resilience. They are briefly described, elegantly illustrated … and will get you googling to find out more about your favorites. If you’re into this stuff, anyway!

Thanks to Jamila Haider at SRC, who shared this digital copy with me and gave me permission to share it with my friends … Enjoy!

Download the Model Calendar 2015

 

 

 

“A Fresh Start for Sustainable Development”

BlogFeaturePicture_Development_v2Note: A different, chattier version of this post was sent to WaveFront newsletter readers. The eight-point summary is the same. To read WaveFront, sign up at www.AtKisson.com.

The new issue of the leading journal Development, under the new editorship of Tariq Banuri, is finally out! Much food for thought there. I have an essay in its thematic section on the future of development. The essay is called “A Fresh Start for Sustainable Development” [Citation and link: Development (2013) 56(1), 52–57]

Since the essay is behind a paywall, I provide a bare-bones summary below. If you need a copy of the full essay, and cannot access Development, write to information [[ at ]] atkisson.com.

  • Sustainable Development is in the process of being reconsidered and restarted, very slowly, “as though a giant finger was pushing down on a giant global reset button, at a steady but visually glacial pace.” You can see this happening from the global level (e.g. the UN Sustainable Development Goals) all the way down to the local level (e.g. Transition Towns).
  • This is timely. Sustainability became mainstream in recent years by (1) making the risks of non-sustainability clear, and (2) speaking the language of economics and management, and proposing that sustainable development could be achieved through reforms to business as usual, with economic benefits. I promoted this strategy, as did many others, and it has been successful. But this strategy has run its course.
  • The rise of the “Green Economy” and “Green Growth” — one of the manifestations of sustainability’s success in pursuing the above mainstreaming strategy — is a necessary, but far from sufficient, condition for achieving true sustainable development. Wellbeing, equity, freedom and opportunity are equally important.
  • Sustainability needs to return to its roots. It is a set of ambitious and idealistic — not “realistic” — goals, that include the eradication of poverty, the transformation of the global energy system, gender equality, peace. These ultimate goals probably cannot be achieved through “business as usual.” Transformation, not mere reform, is needed.
  • Sustainability’s goals may be radical, but they are not marginal. “They are enshrined in numerous global agreement texts, including Rio+20’s The Future We Want” [one of several UN texts agreed to by the all the world’s governments].
  • We need to return to a solid understanding of basic sustainability: system states that can continue. The disappearance of water, species, soil, and other resources is not sustainable. Widening income and poverty gaps and mass youth unemployment are not sustainable either. We must recall the fundamental goal of this work:  the achievement and maintenance of sustainability in every major system on which the health, wellbeing, and stability of our world (human and natural) depends.”
  • I propose the following formulation as a summary of the goal:  “Green Economy + Wellbeing for All = Sustainable World.”
  • A vision for sustainability based in transformation and aiming for ultimate, idealistic goals means that the work is far from over. There is tremendous learning to be done, great adherence to ethics required, lots of hard work to do — but essential, exciting work — in the decades ahead.

Summer: A Time for Measuring, Analyzing, Discussing — and even Experiencing! — Happiness

The following was originally composed as a set of notes for use by Junko Edahiro, who writes a monthly newsletter on happiness and wellbeing issues in Japan. See the website of her Institute, ISHES, for more info.

My own summer vacation, spent mostly in Sweden and the United States, has been a happy one … but the summer has also produced a lot of interesting news about happiness, wellbeing, and alternatives to traditional economic growth, in both countries.

Let’s start with the US. First came a special Summer Double Issue of Time Magazine, which had “The Pursuit of Happiness” as a cover story (July 8/July 15, 2015). Several articles detailed what makes Americans happy, and compared US results with the results of surveys in other countries:  the US ended up 23rd on a list of 50 countries. It also reported on fascinating genetic and neurological research that suggests Americans are more pre-disposed to be happy … because the country is made up of immigrants. People who move, seek novelty, and exhibit other “forward-looking behavior” are also more likely to be happy and optimistic, and there are certain genetic markers for these and related traits that show up more often in Americans.

In fact, these genetic markers for novelty-seeking show up more often in human beings depending on how far they are from Africa, the cradle of civilization. The restless types left Africa, many thousands of years ago, and the most restless kept moving. (Does that mean Australia’s aboriginals and Patagonia’s native Americans are the happiest people genetically? The article did not say.)

Anyway, it turns out that searching for new things is also one of the behaviors that is most likely to be correlated with happiness: the article called it “the joy of pursuit.” We are happier when searching for things than when we find them!

The articles also covered the relationship between money and happiness, and noted that “money can indeed buy happiness, at least in certain circumstances.” And within limits. Doubling your salary from US$ 75,000 to 150,000 does not make people twice as happy … but it *does* make them happier, say current research findings.

Of course, your money-related happiness also depends on comparisons with neighbors, as everyone (including researchers!) already knows. But in the age of social media, things get complicated, because now the whole world is your neighbor … and you don’t just compare cars or houses. You compare Twitter followers.

Americans, the article concludes, do not “simply inherit happiness,” but American happiness “has long been high and healthy — a simple gift of biology, history and environment but a gift all the same.”

See the whole article here:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146449,00.html

Meanwhile, the whole Sharing Economy has now come to the attention of the most prominent sustainability voice in the US mainstream media — that is, Thomas Friedman. While Friedman is often “late to the party” on topics like this (he tends to “discover” things years after other people have written about them), what he does is bring the full weight of the New York Times to bear. And he also writes brilliantly. So his article about the Share Economy and how it is shaking up normal consumer markets is really worth reading, even if you already know a lot about this topic.

See:  http://nyti.ms/18tqX65

In my other home country, Sweden, there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of attention and writing focused on alternatives to the GDP. A lead editorial in Dagens Nyheter (DN, the leading daily newspaper) took up the issue of measuring wellbeing, specifically the new study by Ida Kubiszewski, Robert Costanza and others, which looks at the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) over several decades. Kubiszewski et al. concluded that GPI — which subtracts environmental and social costs from traditional GDP measures (among other innovative features) — peaked globally in 1978 but since then has gone down, even though GDP has increased. Rising income inequality and increasing environmental degradation were the chief culprits.

But the Swedish newspaper was critical of the study. “The concept [of the GPI] succeeds as advocacy,” wrote the editors. “But does it actually make us any wiser?”

Equality and environment “are not trivial aspects of development,” wrote DN. But “an index that is created to show us that money is not the most important thing is going to confirm just that point.” While critical of the GPI for simply reflecting its own set of values-based interpretations, DN did not defend the GDP; it noted that GDP sometimes tracks with happiness, sometimes not, and “does not say anything more about society’s wellbeing than annual income says about an individual’s wellbeing.” The newspaper called strongly for more discussion and debate on issues of money, happiness, values, and longterm sustainability, but concluded that one should skip the GPI, which it characterized as a “detour via an easily manipulated index.”

Well, whether or not you agree with Swedish newspaper editors, you can get a summary of the actual report here:
http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/news/costs-of-economic-growth-have-outweighed-benefits.html
or review the formal paper here:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800913001584

[NOTE: Of course I do not personally agree with DN on this. The *use* of the GDP is far more “easily manipulated” than the factors in the GPI, and all such measures are inherently normative and values-based. But I have a bias: I used to manage the GPI program years ago, and Bob and Ida are friends.]

The debate that DN calls for received a big jolt forward with the recent publication of a new book in Sweden (available only in Swedish) called “Swearing in Church: 24 Voices about Endless Growth on a Finite Planet.”* To “swear in church” is a Swedish phrase that underscores the fact that criticizing growth is essentially sacrilegious in Western society: you don’t do it. So the “twenty-four voices” assembled in this volume of essays are themselves a statement, because they represent a wonderful diverse and prominent sample of Swedish society, from Anders Wijkman (well known political figure and current global chairman of the Club of Rome) to Stina Oscarson (who runs the Swedish national radio theater) to Pär Holmgren (a famous TV weatherman and climate change educator) and Fredrik Lindström (a much-loved TV personality and language critic). That all of them were willing to “swear in church” about the problem of unending economic growth, and that they did it together in the same volume, speaks volumes.

We will see how much impact the book actually makes … but I take it as an excellent indicator that I was first introduced to the book by my Swedish mother-in-law, who had it lying around on the coffee table at the family’s summer place, on the island of Gotland. She knew about the book before I did.

As an extended family, we tend to spend our summer days on Gotland doing … well, not much. Lying on the beach. Talking. Playing volleyball. Cooking dinner. Most of which costs relatively little money, in pure GDP terms.

But ah, yes, it certainly does make us happy.

Alan

P.S. The UK also just published its second annual national happiness report. People are a little happier there this year:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23501423

* Swedish title: “Att svära i kyrkan – Tjugofyra röster om evig tillväxt på en ändlig planet” (2013)

Indicators, MDGs, SDGs, and GDP

Williams-Fukuda-Parr_16may2013
Mariama Williams (L) and Sakiko Fukuda-Parr (R) at Kulturhuset in Stockholm, 16 May 2013

On Thursday 16 May, I attended an excellent public seminar on the power of indicators and numbers in the context of sustainable development. Hosted by UNDP and the Dag Hammarsköld Foundation, in Stockholm, it featured two powerful women speakers: Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, former director of the UN’s Human Development Index and now a professor at the New School in New York; and Mariama Williams, a senior researcher at the South Centre. I tweeted this seminar three times, and used words like “brilliant” and “inspiring,” even though the presentation slides were terrible and neither speaker was a spectacular orator. But their analysis was incisive, compelling, their way of presenting was genuine and direct, and they forced one to rethink even old thoughts in new ways.

Fukuda-Parr, once a champion of the aggregated index, presented a devastating critique of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Well, “devastating” is overstating, and she did not really have a solution to offer regarding the problems identified — but the problems are serious. Goals and their respective indicators, chosen to help simplify communications messages and get people motivated to act, became frameworks for giving and evaluation, and indeed replaced the more complex and nuanced conceptual frameworks that had previously characterized the issues. The MDG’s “began to define development.” This is quite problematic: “gender equality,” for example, gets reduced to the number of girls in school — which turns an enormous, deep global dialogue and not uncontroversial development process into a nice, non-threatening little percentage figure. (These are my words, not hers.)

I tweeted this link to her and her colleagues’ papers, constituting a critical review of the MDG process and its numbers:

http://harvardfxbcenter.org/power-of-numbers/

I have not read the papers yet, but I plan to, and assume/hope that I got the basic message from Fukuda-Parr herself. Having listened to so much cheer-leading regarding the MDGs, which I do personally think have been very useful, and watching the formation now of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with some concern and worry, Fukuda-Parr’s critical skepticism was like a breath of fresh air into the dialogue. Especially as it came from the former director of yet another mega-indicator, the Human Development Index!

Her talk was peppered with phrases like “narrowing down effect,” “silos”, “perverse incentives” (knock down the housing of poor people and increase your score on ghettos!). She related how previously solid goals and targets — such as halving the *number* of people going hungry — got turned into much *less* ambitious ones. Halving the *percentage* of people without enough food, when populations are growing, leaves *more* people without nutrition than the older goal would have. “Water for all” became, effectively, “water for some.”

Ah, but what to do? No real answers here from Fukuda-Parr, except some “do nots”, like “Don’t take the indicators literally.” She advocates more the messy, paradoxical dialogue, than the clear, goal-seeking mega-indicator. This appeals to the intellectual, but not to the manager.

Mariama Williams had a different take, focused on the next-to-impossible challenge that she summed up (verbally) this way: There is a big development gap + there is a huge debt overhang in the developing world + we have reached or exceeded the planetary ecosystem boundaries + there is a huge mitigation gap on climate change so the world will eventually be steaming + there are occasional disasters in poor areas that reverse years of progress.

“Governments are still struggling to catch up with the 2015, MDG agenda,” she noted. “And here comes the *post*-2015 agenda. And the train has already left the station.”

Williams presented the classic critique of the GDP, but in some detail, including emphasizing its origins as a tool of wartime, something that did its job well but is “past its sell-by date”. And she referenced a couple of milestone reports that summed up the status of the alternatives — including, I was pleased to hear, our own “Life Beyond Growth” report. (http://lifebeyondgrowth.org)

Williams, like Fukuda-Parr, didn’t have answers, nor did she promise any. She had excellent answers to question though, from the audience, showing how the political dialogue around the MDGs and other topics had effectively deflected any serious grappling with structural inequalities in the world. Both women agreed that equality had sunk lower on the political dashboard because of the way these goals and measures are handled, instead of being raised up higher. And important stories had gotten buried: China, for example, has succeeded on so many development indicators by *not* following the Washington consensus, which few wish even to speak about, while Brazil used serious labor policies to both protect workers and create jobs in a vibrant economy, something that again falls far outside of the neo-liberal consensus, but is (unsurprisingly) overlooked.

What do I take away from all this critical talk? A good, healthy skepticism about the SDG process — which I nonetheless am pledged to supporting, especially with our volunteer-driven Pyramid 2030 campaign, which is still in the “gearing up” mode (http://pyramid2030.org). And gratitude for the people who speak out and ask tough questions, when so many others nod and smile and say how wonderful these things are. I’ll close with a quote from Fukuda-Parr:

“There are things that we treasure that we simply cannot measure.”

Report from OECD: What Winning Looks Like

Here’s a letter I sent out to my friends in the Balaton Group from New Delhi, India, where I was recently attending an OECD World Forum and moderating a panel on sustainability. I never thought attending a meeting on national statistics could make me so happy.  /Alan

Dear friends,

I am reporting to you now from the floor of the OECD World Forum on “Measuring Well-Being for Development and Policy Making.” Around me is a collection of chief national statisticians, senior economists, OECD officials, and assorted political and civil society actors from around the world.

My purpose in writing to you is to communicate a short message:  we won.

I do not mean, of course, that we have “won” the “fight” for a sustainable future. Far from it. What I mean by this is something very narrow and specific, and concerns the fight to convince policy-makers that the GDP should not be the central measure of progress. This is a fight that many people have been involved with for many years, going back to the late 1980s.

Why do I say “we won”? Because at this conference are many people whose job is to prepare the national and global statistics that inform those policy-makers, as well as a number of actual policy-makers. The consensus among those attending this Forum is clear:  these new measures of overall quality of life as well as subjective wellbeing (“Gross National Happiness” and its many imitations, under many names, now in dozens of countries) have become fully mainstream — and they might even challenge GDP for supremacy in the coming years. Programs to develop and launch and use these new indicators in policy-making are now happening in dozens of countries, and they are clearly on the rise. The commitments are serious and appear to be long-term. Virtually everyone at this event, from the head of the OECD to national statisticians, seems to agree that GDP is no longer adequate, and in fact can be dangerously misleading.

Of course, there are many caveats. The fascination with growth and the GDP is hardly going away, and many factors — not least the deep economic crisis here in Europe — could eventually slow the momentum of this “new mainstream”. But what is interesting, indeed rather amazing to me, is that the momentum around the new measures continues to grow, at these high levels of government and international policy making, *despite* the financial crisis. (And in some cases, *because of* the financial crisis, which has exposed the problems in many measurement systems, not just the GDP.)

In political terms, the OECD is rather more progressive than some other international organizations; it is certainly more progressive than the WTO, for example. So a consensus within the OECD does not mean “everyone” in political power, by any means. But, especially as compared to the small think-tanks and academic centers that have championed these ideas, the OECD is unquestionably at the heart of the policy world, and a good indicator of “mainstream-ness”. Australia, France, China, Mexico, several African countries, Indian states, and dozens more … This is critical mass.

There’s another important factor that convinces me that we have won. Many of these national statisticians are saying — from the podium as well as in private conversations — that they see the future of their profession moving this way, and they want to be on the train. “We’re a conservative bunch,” one of them said to me, “and that adds to our credibility. But now we see that these new measurements have reached a point where if we don’t get on that train, we might become less relevant.”  And they want to be more relevant, not less. Expanding the kinds of measures that reflect national progress is actually good for their careers, good for their budgets, and good for their overall political standing. What’s more, it makes good sense to them now.

So, especially if you are someone who remembers those old indicator projects and meetings and reports from the early 1990s and afterward … take a moment and mentally celebrate. We started pushing this rock up the hill a long time ago (taking over from those who pushed before us) … and more and more people joined in … and now it is over the hump, and appears to be rolling on its own steam.

This is what winning looks like.

Warm best from India,

Alan

Subject: Sustaining happiness (or, Why I didn’t go to a meeting on Happiness)

[Copy of Facebook Status Update]
Friends, if you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll see a note from friend Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir saying she missed seeing me at the High-Level Meeting on Happiness hosted by the Prime Minister of Bhutan at UN headquarters in NY. This is a very significant meeting, and I was pleased and honored to be invited. (They even said, “and please bring your guitar” … along with our recent Life Beyond Growth report.) I really hope you all take note of this meeting, the declaration they will issue, the World Happiness Report released there, and more.

So, why didn’t I go?

Simple: it would have meant missing important events with my children … adding stress to my wife’s work schedule … well, several other kinds of stress. Ultimately, a light dawned, and I decided to stay home. It did not make sense to sacrifice my own family’s happiness, in order to attend a meeting on happiness, no matter how important that meeting turns out to be.

But let me voice my strong support for the meeting’s them of “sustainable happiness” from here in Stockholm. We, and the planet, really need it.

[Here is a press release on the results of the meeting:  link]

Life Beyond Growth—download free report

New report traces revolution in how we think about “progress”

Is there Life Beyond Growth? The new report by that name declares decisively yes, citing more and more countries that are seriously questioning the “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP) and traditional economic growth as their default definition of “progress.”

Despite all the economic and political turmoil of the past year — from the Arab Spring to the Great East Japan Earthquake, from the “Occupy” movement to the near-meltdown of the Eurozone — a quiet revolution in economic thought has continued to gain steam. Concepts such as “Green Economy,” “Green Growth,” “Gross National Happiness,” and even “National Wellbeing” have governments around the world exploring new ways to frame, and measure, the idea of national progress. Most recently, the United Nations formally joined the conversation, with its own high-level panel calling for “new ways to measure progress” in advance of the Rio+20 global summit.

These ideas are not new; some are decades old. But the political willingness to engage with them is *very* new. Leaders are realizing that social and environmental conditions simply demand a different approach. As Angel Gurría, head of the OECD, declared last year, “Growth as usual is no longer an option.”

Commissioned by the new Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES) in Tokyo, Life Beyond Growth was written to help people (especially decision-makers) come to grips with the sudden rise of these new ideas, frameworks, and alternatives to the GDP as the sole measure of “Growth as Usual.” Meant to be the first installment in an annual series of reports, Life Beyond Growth 2012 traces “the evolution of a revolution,” from the origins of traditional economic growth to the present day rise of the candidates to replace it, or complement it, as the principal goal of national development.

Life Beyond Growth also takes a geo-political look at ideas like Green Economy (popular among environmentalists) and Green Growth (embraced especially by dynamic Asian economies such as South Korea) and maps out their future prospects:  Who promotes them? Who is adopting them? Where are they gaining traction or meeting resistance? And what is the impact of trends such as the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility, the protests of the Occupy movement, the persistence of armed conflicts, or the upsurge in United Nations activity tied to the Rio+20 summit? Life Beyond Growth attempts describe and even visualize these influences, and come to some conclusions.

Will measures of “Green Growth” replace the GDP in the future? Or will “Gross National Happiness” and indicators of national wellbeing eventually take an equal seat at the table? The authors and sponsors of Life Beyond Growth do not pretend to know the answers in any definitive way. But after a review that attempts to be thorough, balanced, and sympathetic, the report does take a stand. The complex global realities of our time, where one billion lead charmed lives and another billion live extremely deprived ones, demands a differentiated view. Some concepts logically, and ethically, hold more meaning for some groups than for others.

But in the end, says Life Beyond Growth, a consensus does seem to be emerging: we should all be aiming for a world that is environmentally green, economically secure, and happy, for all. Does that sound visionary? It should:  if there was ever a time when the world needed a clear consensus on a new economic vision for the future, that time is now.

Alan AtKisson served as lead author for Life Beyond Growth 2012. To learn more and to read the ISHES’ Life Beyond Growth report (free download), visit this website:  http://lifebeyondgrowth.org