How do you measure the success of a nation state?
From 1930’s, the single most popular measure has been the GDP, or the Gross Domestic Product, which purports to measure the economic output of a country. It is widely used as an economic growth parameter, and a continuously growing country is supposed to create wealth for its citizens. This has generally been true, and the economically prosperous countries also have some of the highest per capita incomes in the world.
But do economic measures such as GDP and GNP truly reflect the state of “wellbeing” of a country’s citizens? Do these measures accurately portray poverty levels, education standards, homelessness, mental health and healthcare status of citizens? Does every citizen benefit from the national economic growth of his or her country? Do citizens feel happy, or constantly complain about rising costs which affect their daily livelihood? Do citizens think that enough of the national budget is being allocated for education, healthcare and eliminating the scourge of poverty? What is the extent of inequality in a developed country – is it low enough to be ignored? Do citizens feel safe and secure?
The simple and rather simplistic answer is a NO.
There are very few nations which focus on the above non-economic measures to ensure that their citizens are well taken care of. The Nordic countries such as Finland come to mind. Education is completely free, and kids get free lunch at school. We cannot dismiss the Finnish model as a “nanny” state, which it is not. Norway, Sweden, Denmark all have higher status as “happiness” producing countries in the minds of their citizens. Unfortunately, there is no Asian country in the top 10 happiest countries – Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong do not make the cut. Bhutan is a happy country, being the first in the world to have a Gross National Happiness index, but did not make it to the global top 10 ranking in the 2018 report. According to the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations, New Zealand comes in at the 8th place, which is already great.
Now, New Zealand has become the first country in the world to actually publish a “wellbeing” National Budget. The focus is on a set of “wellbeing” priorities which will be adopted by all the ministries. According to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the indomitable Jacinda Ardern, it is more critical to measure the health, satisfaction and safety of the citizens, than to just constantly fixate on GDP growth as a wellbeing measure.
I totally agree.
Though I cannot understand one thing: why do the Kiwis feel that their country is not a happy one? Why are they having one of the highest suicide rates in all of OECD (the league of economically developed Western countries)? Why is domestic violence so high in New Zealand, and yet the United Nations chose to place NZ in its 8th global rank on the world happiness report?
Nevertheless, this initiative to build the entire national budget around wellbeing of citizens is a fantastic one, a new concept, which will be closely watched by the rest of the developed world. NZ needs to ensure that it succeeds in implementation. Otherwise, it will be considered as a flash in the pan, with no measurable impact in creating a sense of well being and reducing levels of poverty and homelessness.
We have to wait and see the impact. In whichever manner we see it, the “wellbeing” budget is a novel concept focused on certain clear national people-centric priorities, which should, with effective implementation and followup, generate a significant sense of wellbeing in NZ citizens. My two cents is that PM Ardern has a new strategic thinking and should be commended for taking the risk to release such a budget to the scrutiny of the public and economic analysts.
All the best to her and her forward-thinking government.
Note: I visited NZ on a family vacation many years ago and came to the conclusion it is one of the best in the world, and my family has always wanted to return to NZ for a second vacation.
Cheers, and have a great weekend folks,
15th June 2019