August 27, 2009
From our Correspondent
According to the latest results released by NEF (New Economics Foundation) in July 2009, Singapore is ranked 49th out of 143 countries in the Happiness Planet Index or HPI. (read full report here)
NEF is a registered charity founded in 1986 by the leaders of The Other Economic Summit (TOES) which forced issues such as international debt onto the agenda of the G8 summit meetings.
The HPI is an innovative measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world.
It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives. It is composed from three indicaators - life satisfaction, life expectancy and ecological footprint.
In essence, the HPI is an efficiency measure: the degree to which long and happy lives (life satisfaction and life expectancy are multiplied together to calculate happy life years) are achieved per unit of environmental impact.
Launched in July 2006 as a radical departure from current obsession with GDP, it identified health and a positive experience of life as universal human goals, and the natural resources that human systems depend on fundamental inputs.
The highest HPI score is that of Costa Rica (76.1 out of 100). As well as reporting the highest life satisfaction (8.5 out of 10) in the world, Costa Ricans also have the second highest average life expectancy of the New World (second only to Canada).
Singapore has the second lowest HPI (48.2 out of 100) in Southeast Asia after Cambodia, but is ahead of Korea (44.4), Japan (43.3) and Hong Kong (41.6).
The HPI is a repudiation of the central dogma of economic (GDP) growth as an indicator of progress. It reminds us that we should not lose sight of the fact that economic growth is just one strategy to achieve well-being and, in terms of natural resources, a demonstrably inefficient one.
Rather than pursuing growth at all costs, even if detrimental to well-being or sustainability, HPI advocates that leaders shold be striving to foster well-being and pursue sustainability, even if detrimental to growth.
As the United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission, a public body that directly advises the Prime Minister’s Office on sustainable development issues, points out in its report “Prosperity without growth”:
“…the state has become caught up in a belief that growth should trump all other policy goals. But this narrow pursuit of growth represents a horrible distortion of the common good.”
Like many developed countries, Singapore is obsessed with the GDP growth to the extent that a variable proportion of the Ministers’ salaries are based on it.
Singapore has enjoyed years of economic growth. However as many Singaporeans have attested, life is not becoming better or easier.
The wealth generated by the economy is not distributed equally to all citizens. The rich becomes richer while the poor becomes poorer. The median income of the lower income group has stagnated and even declined due to influx of cheap foreign labor.
Rising cost of living, especially that of public housing coupled with a lack of social safety net are making life increasingly tough for ordinary Singaporeans who face a grim and uncertain future.
Instead of striving to keep our GDP numbers impressive, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our entire economy policy and place more emphasis on growing our HPI so that we can achieve “happiness and prosperity for our people” at the same time.