Gross National Happiness is, well… gross

In my last post I talked about “Tradable Energy Quotas” or TEQs and why I dislike the term. In a related conversation with growthmadness I mentioned why I like Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to such measures as TEQ, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP), but not its name. So I guess I better explain myself.

The problem begins with the name. Gross National Happiness is poking fun at GNP, where Product is replaced by Happiness. This seems fine, until you think about the suggestiveness of the gross national. These two words are used together as a set, and it has connotations of economy and economics. So any term which are used with it will be linked to this two-word set. And in the same manner, TEQ reeks of economist’s deodorant.

The environmentalists’ choice of Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and Ecological Footprint (EF) are milder terminology. Since progress has been enlisted into the Postmodern lexicon to have a negative meaning it has the ability to affect change.

GNH may need to be repackaged if it is to be accepted. The “karma” left by GNP must be exorcised. Apart from this Gross National Happiness is a great concept, one that may actually save us if implemented properly. The question is only, how?

5 thoughts on “Gross National Happiness is, well… gross”

  1. You’re very right about language, I’ve no doubt. It subtly and not so subtly nudges people’s thinking. That’s the secret of good propagandists, I think.

    “Which is why I am also concerned with the dual definitions of sustainability, one which adamantly puts human values before the rest of the ecosystem.”

    Yeah, something really bothers me about the models and views which frame everything in terms of human values, utility to humans, etc. Groups like Earth First! get chided for their “biocentric” view, but I can’t really argue with it, ya know?


  2. Yes, it is interesting that Adam Smith, the father of economics, had his concerns about affluence even though he created the system we have today. It just goes to show what happens to all good things when it becomes bastardized. His name also gets muddied by other’s lesser dealings.

    Which is why I am also concerned with the dual definitions of sustainability, one which adamantly puts human values before the rest of the ecosystem.

    And to think people believe our language has nothing to do with it. Gross National Happinesses aside we need to look at our value systems and how we express them in language and this affects our thinking.


  3. I *finally* had a chance to read the Alternet article on GNH:

    Very interesting topic. I see GNH is quite relevant even to the specific topic of growth which on which I focus. From the article:

    Today it is widely acknowledged that the human economy cannot keep growing at the cost of its habitat. Yet even after two decades of expanding environmental regulation we are still losing the race to save the planet. This is partly because production systems and consumption patterns are out of sync with the carrying capacity of the planet. The pressure for ever higher GNP is merely one manifestation of this.

    You’re probably right that GNH needs a name change. But I also think you’re right that it could be the kind of thing that will save us. I’ve been debating a bit on my blog with a neoclassical economics oriented commenter (though one with a focus on “environmental economics”). I haven’t read a great deal of neoclassical econ, but there are some fundamental points of concern which even I can see. :-/ I think ultimately, the argument of mainstream economists are most vulnerable to observations of the need for a completely different approach, in which things like GNH (as well as somehow creating a whole new mindset) would play important roles. I’m definitely going to investigate GNH further.


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