Happy Nations Don’t Focus on Growth


Roman Gorielov/Istockphoto

❝ The Socialist candidate for the French presidency, Benoit Hamon, says he doesn’t believe in the “myth” and “quasi-religion” of growth — it’s part of the “consumerist, productivist and materialist model” of development, he argues. That’s outside the economic mainstream, and many see those views as a symptom of the meltdown of the global left. But the recently-released Global Happiness Report 2017, produced under the auspices of the United Nations, shows that Hamon just may be ahead of the curve.

❝ Since the project’s inception five years ago, small, rich Western European nations have led the list. In this year’s ranking, compiled using the last three years of data, they make up the top six, with Norway, Denmark and Iceland leading the world. In terms of growth, these nations have long lagged behind the global level…

Meanwhile, China, which has one of the highest sustained growth rates in the world, is not progressing in terms of happiness. The happiness report contains an entire chapter on that, written by Richard Easterlin, Fei Wang and Shun Wang. They pointed out that based on previous studies, China should have seen an increase in well-being of one full point on the ten-point Cantril Scale. Instead, Chinese people are just about as happy as they were in 1990.

❝ The team of respected economists Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Layard and John Helliwell suggests six variables explain the subjective well-being levels: wealth expressed as per capita GDP, the level of social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity (the prevalence of giving to charitable causes), and perceptions of corruption…

❝ …The experience of the small European nations at the top of the table shows that once a certain level of wealth is achieved, growth isn’t as important to happiness levels. As long as per capita GDP is relatively stable, the other factors do their job, and if there’s a problem with them — for example, health care becomes less accessible or deteriorates, the social fabric starts fraying, people grow more selfish or freedom erodes — people tend to feel unhappy despite an unchanged comfort level.

The happiness-related findings are politically important. In 2015, George Ward of the London School of Economics analyzed European election data to show that subjective well-being was a stronger predictor of the vote for the incumbent government than GDP growth or the unemployment level. It’s hard for technocratic elites to acknowledge that the relative electoral success of nativist parties could be dictated by a yearning for social cohesion that they believe is undermined by immigration and globalization; it’s even harder to come up with ways of fixing the problem.

❝ Far left politicians such as Hamon at least give it a try. The French presidential candidate wants to shift the focus from growth to the social support network, primarily health care and education. He also proposes a universal basic income and a shorter workweek, made possible by higher taxes on the rich. It could help or it could backfire…

❝ …Regardless of whether their specific recipes are workable, the left-wing radicals are right in trying to shift the rich world’s policy focus. There’s plenty of wealth, that goal is already achieved. Good policy is a matter of directing it toward the determinants of happiness.

I’ll second that emotion.

Are Democrats dumb enough to support a “bipartisan” carbon tax that no Republicans support?

❝ The dream of a bipartisan deal on carbon taxes is evergreen in US political circles. Lately, it has taken on a somewhat more specific form. The Climate Leadership Council (led by emeritus Republicans George Shultz and James Baker III) and the libertarian Niskanen Center have both proposed various forms of a deal in which Republicans would agree to a carbon tax in exchange for Democrats agreeing to repeal regulations on carbon emissions and fuel economy (among others).

Reporter Amy Harder…points out that no Republicans support the deal. But she also says that environmental groups and Democrats will not accept it — and their refusal is “the logjam preventing any climate compromise.”

❝ Niskanen’s David Bookbinder…told Harder that green groups actually would accept the trade if the price was right, they just won’t say so. “Like most entities that have no experience in actual negotiations,” he said, “[environmental groups] believe that they can’t say publicly that they will make the trade until the R’s put the tax on the table.”…

❝ This is shaping up to be a classic Washington dynamic: Democrats being pressured to compromise in advance, with phantoms.

❝ There is zero authentic support from the conservative movement or elected Republicans for a carbon tax. So the “debate” mostly consists of journalists and pundits (who have received these proposals rapturously) pressuring the left to reveal what it’s willing to give away.

Bookbinder would have us believe that real, experienced negotiators blab about what they’re willing to trade away in advance not only of a concrete offer but of anyone to negotiate with.

It would be indescribably stupid of Democrats to fall for this…

❝ There’s nothing wrong with people pushing this idea, if they think it’s a good idea. But elected Democrats are surely aware that a) there is no actual support for it among the GOP and b) when it comes to carbon, federally speaking, EPA regulations are the only tool left on the table.

David Roberts concludes with “Showing your cards…in exchange for the approval of the DC cognoscenti … well, surely that’s a mistake Democrats won’t make.”

Um, I hope so. Meanwhile, read the whole article. Roberts has done his homework and there is much to consider – even if there’s damned little on offer from the rightwing side of our political spectrum.

Trump says he saved $1 Billion on Jet – Air Force says “Huh, Wha?”

❝ The Air Force can’t account for $1 billion in savings that President Donald Trump said he’s negotiated for the program to develop, purchase and operate two new Boeing Co. jets to serve as Air Force One…Colonel Pat Ryder, an Air Force spokesman, told reporters…when asked how Trump had managed to reduce the price for the new presidential plane. “I refer you to the White House.”

A White House spokesman didn’t respond to repeated inquiries about Trump’s comments.

❝ “They were close to signing a $4.2 billion deal to have a new Air Force One,” Trump said at a rally…in Florida…Instead, Trump said, “we got that price down by over $1 billion, and I probably haven’t spoken, to be honest with you, for more than an hour on the project. I got the generals in, who are fantastic. I got Boeing in. But I told Boeing it’s not good enough. We’re not going to do it. The price is still too high.”…

❝ So far, the Air Force has budgeted about $1.6 billion through 2019 for the Air Force One program. It decided in 2015 to let Boeing build the jets without competition because it had the only U.S.-built passenger plane that could be adapted for the purpose. But the service said it would provide for bidding on specialized equipment such as advanced electronics and communications.

Fake news from a fake president is something our media seems to be finding means of accommodating. No doubt Congressional Republicans will eventually do the same – excepting the nutball TeaPublicans who call themselves the Freedom Caucus. Illicit – and mostly unchallenged – gerrymandering guarantees their members safe passage till the results of the 2020 census. That is, unless Obama’s rumored constitutional challenges to Congressional sophistry actually take place before then.