Gross National Happiness

The nation of Bhutan has developed an ideology that is being picked up by other countries:  The use of government to make sure its citizens are happy.  Whether they like it or not.

Some fidget, a few eyes wander here and there, but for a minute or two, hundreds of primary schoolchildren are quiet, learning to meditate together at morning assembly — palms upturned and thumbs together in the style of Buddha.

This is Gross National Happiness — or GNH — at work in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a country determined to hold on to its ancient values even as it modernizes, to preserve its environment even as its economy grows and to prove to the world that there is more to life than money.

The term was coined by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 in an apparently off-the-cuff remark to a journalist.

“I am not so much interested in gross national product,” he reportedly said. “I am more interested in gross national happiness.”

Those words grew into an ideology that has been examined and embraced by development economists and political leaders the world over.

Not since Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence of people’s inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has the idea been so widely disseminated that a government should promote — or at least not obstruct — its citizens’ happiness. France and Britain are incorporating measures of happiness and well-being into their national accounts, and the U.N. General Assembly adopted happiness as an unofficial Millennium Development Goal in July.

The U.N. resolution was a victory for Bhutan as it looks to win global approval for its national philosophy, but the utopian-sounding idea has proved difficult to put into practice at home.

“The joy of GNH is that it offers Bhutan a distinct and alternative path to development,” said opposition leader Tshering Tobgay. “The pitfall of GNH is that we are more satisfied with talking about it, preaching about it, rather than sincerely implementing some of its important principles.”

The government has tried to factor happiness into policy in a systematic way, creating a Gross National Happiness Commission and conducting two comprehensive studies of the happiness of its citizens based on what it sees as the four pillars of happiness: sustainable development, good governance, preservation of the environment and promotion of traditional culture.

via In Bhutan, pursuit of happiness is a tough mountain to climb – The Washington Post.

The article goes on to explain efforts to quantify an index of Gross National Happiness and how mandatory utopia laws are just not working as advertised.  Still, that is not stopping the government of Bhutan.

Do you think this will catch on here?  Isn’t that what both parties are implicitly trading on, what policies will make us the most happy?

Beware of Greeks fearing gifts

The Greeks founded Europe, and now they may end it.  And the vehicle for both is the same:  Democracy.

The European powers carefully crafted a deal to bail out Greece, forgiving half of their debt at the cost of significant reforms and austerity measures.  With this agreement, the world’s stock markets soared.  But then the Greek government, despite its earlier agreement, suddenly decided to put the accord to the vote of the people.  Since the population seems opposed to  austerity, the prospect of a referendum has cast the agreement into doubt, sending the world’s stock markets into another dive and shaking the economic foundations of the Eurozone.

World leaders convening at this resort [Cannes] for a long-planned summit find themselves confronting a suddenly acute crisis over Greece and signs of an economic slowdown throughout Europe that may narrow their room for action.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou left a cabinet meeting in Athens early Wednesday with his government intact — for now — and backing his plan to hold a national referendum on the country’s latest international rescue program.

World leaders will gather in Cannes, France, on Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 to discuss Europe’s debt crisis and other economic issues. Thousands of protesters are gathering in France to urge the G-20 leaders to focus on the poor.

But his call for a popular vote on Tuesday has jeopardized the rescue plan and upended the agenda for Group of 20 leaders. Papandreou has been called to a meeting here Wednesday night to explain himself.

This was to have been a summit where the G-20 — the forum where industrialized nations and the leading developing economies compare notes on the world economy — puts its stamp on a plan that convincingly appeared to settle Europe’s lingering financial crisis.

Instead, with Cannes under a security lockdown that has made its streets into a virtual ghost town, the group will be looking for ways to avoid even greater problems. The 17-nation euro region is trying desperately to navigate between the budget-cutting and reform needed to bring down high levels of government debt, and the tepid economic growth that is sapping incomes, causing chronically high unemployment and straining political systems.

via World leaders to confer with Greece over referendum call – The Washington Post.

Do you think the Greek government was right to put the question of accepting the economic package to a popular referendum?  Does the world’s economic problems bring us to the limits of Democracy, the possibility that people will not vote to suffer, even when the alternative may be suffering on a far greater scale?  Can you see something like that happening here, with voters rejecting efforts to cut back federal spending AND repudiating new taxes AND demanding ever more entitlements, to the point of national bankruptcy?

UPDATE:  The Greek government has now scrapped the referendum.

Murdoch corners 50% of Christian publishing

HarperCollins is part of the media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also among many other properties owns Fox News.   HarperCollins already owns Zondervan, the world’s leading Bible publisher.  Now Christianity Today reports that HarperCollins is also buying Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publishing company.   This will give Mr. Murdoch control of 50% of the Christian publishing industry.

See HarperCollins Buys Thomas Nelson, Will Control 50% of Christian Publishing Market | Liveblog | Christianity Today.

Does it matter that the Christian publishing industry will be dominated by a secular corporation?  Or by a mogul like Murdoch, who also publishes racy tabloids?  What will this do to the smaller publishing companies like Crossway and denominational houses like CPH?  Or will e-books, the Kindle, Amazon, and viral online marketing make even HarperCollins obsolete?

Population implosion

The world’s  population reportedly hit 7 billion yesterday.  But, according to the Washington Post, the problem is not a population explosion but a population implosion:

The United Nations has declared that the human population will hit 7 billion Monday, and an expanding percentage of those people are in the market for reading glasses.

The aging of the human race has been faster than anyone could have imagined a few decades ago. Fertility rates have plunged globally; simultaneously, life spans have increased. The result is a re-contoured age graph: The pyramid, once with a tiny number of old folks at the peak and a broad foundation of children, is inverting. In wealthy countries, the graph already has a pronounced middle-age spread.

This is, in many respects, very good news. Longer life is a blessing of modern medicine and improvements in nutrition. Lower fertility rates have corresponded to more educational opportunities for women and greater prosperity for societies in general.

But the unexpectedly abrupt demographic transition has created economic upheaval. For the countries that hit the fertility brakes the hardest, the graying of society has become a full-blown crisis. They’re suddenly desperate for babies. They need more workers to provide goods and services to huge numbers of pensioners.

The fertility rate in Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece and many other nations is less than 1.5 children per woman, dramatically lower than the “replacement” rate of 2.1 children (the extra 0.1 accounts for children who do not survive to adulthood). Japan (fertility rate 1.4) is already the oldest country in the history of the world; South Korea (1.2) is not far behind. China (1.5) is racing to get rich before it becomes old.

In far better shape demographically is the United States, with a fertility rate just slightly below replacement level. Immigration boosts the workforce. But the baby-boom generation is storming the higher age brackets; the number of Americans 60 to 64 jumped from 11 million to 17 million in the most recent census. When Social Security was established in 1935, life expectancy in the United States was just under 62 years at birth. Today, it is 78 and rising.

The precipitous drop in fertility in many nations caught demographers by surprise, said Linda Waite, director of the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago. No one realized until relatively recently that fertility rates would keep dropping even when women began having fewer than two children, she said.

“It’s sort of a head slap,” Waite said. “It wasn’t even talked about. It was more an unspoken assumption that fertility would fall to replacement and then stabilize.”

“There are many countries, more all the time, that are going to be looking at a population implosion, rather than a population explosion,” said Matthew Connelly, a Columbia University professor of history and the author of “Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population.” . . .

That raises a philosophical question: Is a baby primarily a future consumer of precious resources on an already overstressed planet, or primarily a future producer of goods and services that sustain an economy — one with a growing cohort of people past their working years?The answer in many aging countries is emphatic: Babies wanted. Pro-natalist policies — government-funded child care, tax breaks, cash payments for additional births — have proliferated in many European countries.

via World population not only grows, but grows old – The Washington Post.

 

Bailing out student loans

President Obama plans another kind of bailout:

In keeping with his new campaign theme of “we can’t wait,” President Obama today will roll out a plan to put more money in the pockets of some of the nation’s 36 million student loan recipients.

Obama has broad latitude in this area – certainly broader than the first two parts of his western campaign trip, underwater mortgages and subsidies for hiring veterans – because one of his early legislative initiatives was to have the federal government take over the student lending business in America.

Obama argued for the measure in 2009 as a cost-savings initiative, saying that the old system of privately issued, government secured loans reduced the amount of available money for needy students and also prevented the feds from making the system more efficient.

But Obama is now seeking to use that new power to obtain a taxpayer-financed stimulus that Congress won’t approve. The idea is to cap student loan repayment rates at 10 percent of a debtor’s income that goes above the poverty line, and then limiting the life of a loan to 20 years.

Take this example: If Suzy Creamcheese gets into George Washington University and borrows from the government the requisite $212,000 to obtain an undergraduate degree, her repayment schedule will be based on what she earns. If Suzy opts to heed the president’s call for public service, and takes a job as a city social worker earning $25,000, her payments would be limited to $1,411 a year after the $10,890 of poverty-level income is subtracted from her total exposure.

Twenty years at that rate would have taxpayers recoup only $28,220 of their $212,000 loan to Suzy.

The president will also allow student debtors to refinance and consolidate loans on more favorable terms, further decreasing the payoff for taxpayers.

via Obama Taps Taxpayers For Student Stimulus | Fox News.

Vatican calls for a world government

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued a document on solving the world’s financial problems.  In the course of those pontifications, the Vatican committee calls for the establishment of a world government, a “world political authority.”  From the document:

On the way to building a more fraternal and just human family and, even before that, a new humanism open to transcendence, Blessed John XXIII’s teaching seems especially timely. In the prophetic Encyclical Pacem in Terris of 1963, he observed that the world was heading towards ever greater unification. He then acknowledged the fact that a correspondence was lacking in the human community between the political organization “on a world level and the objective needs of the universal common good”. He also expressed the hope that one day “a true world political authority” would be created.

In view of the unification of the world engendered by the complex phenomenon of globalization, and of the importance of guaranteeing, in addition to other collective goods, the good of a free, stable world economic and financial system at the service of the real economy, today the teaching of Pacem in Terris appears to be even more vital and worthy of urgent implementation.

In the same spirit of Pacem in Terris, Benedict XVI himself expressed the need to create a world political authority. This seems obvious if we consider the fact that the agenda of questions to be dealt with globally is becoming ever longer. Think, for example, of peace and security; disarmament and arms control; promotion and protection of fundamental human rights; management of the economy and development policies; management of the migratory flows and food security, and protection of the environment. In all these areas, the growing interdependence between States and regions of the world becomes more and more obvious as well as the need for answers that are not just sectorial and isolated, but systematic and integrated, rich in solidarity and subsidiarity and geared to the universal common good.

As the Pope reminds us, if this road is not followed, “despite the great progress accomplished in various sectors, international law would risk being conditioned by the balance of power among the strongest nations.”

The purpose of the public authority, as John XXIII recalled in Pacem in Terris, is first and foremost to serve the common good. Therefore, it should be endowed with structures and adequate, effective mechanisms equal to its mission and the expectations placed in it. This is especially true in a globalized world which makes individuals and peoples increasingly interconnected and interdependent, but which also reveals the existence of monetary and financial markets of a predominantly speculative sort that are harmful for the real economy, especially of the weaker countries.

This is a complex and delicate process. A supranational Authority of this kind should have a realistic structure and be set up gradually. It should be favourable to the existence of efficient and effective monetary and financial systems; that is, free and stable markets overseen by a suitable legal framework, well-functioning in support of sustainable development and social progress of all, and inspired by the values of charity and truth. It is a matter of an Authority with a global reach that cannot be imposed by force, coercion or violence, but should be the outcome of a free and shared agreement and a reflection of the permanent and historic needs of the world common good. It ought to arise from a process of progressive maturation of consciences and freedoms as well as the awareness of growing responsibilities. Consequently, reciprocal trust, autonomy and participation cannot be overlooked as if they were superfluous elements. The consent should involve an ever greater number of countries that adhere with conviction, through a sincere dialogue that values the minority opinions rather than marginalizing them. So the world Authority should consistently involve all peoples in a collaboration in which they are called to contribute, bringing to it the heritage of their virtues and their civilizations.

The establishment of a world political Authority should be preceded by a preliminary phase of consultation from which a legitimated institution will emerge that is in a position to be an effective guide and, at the same time, can allow each country to express and pursue its own particular good. The exercise of this Authority at the service of the good of each and every one will necessarily be super partes (impartial): that is, above any partial vision or particular good, in view of achieving the common good. Its decisions should not be the result of the more developed countries’ excessive power over the weaker countries. Instead, they should be made in the interest of all, not only to the advantage of some groups, whether they are formed by private lobbies or national governments.

via Full Text: Note on financial reform from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.