Friday, January 11, 2008

Time is money

Apparently President Sarkozy is trying to expand the way a country's economic health is measured by expanding the defining parameters.

According to the Associated Press, "Once the preserve of philosophers, measuring happiness has now become a hot topic in economics.

A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development considers taking into account leisure time and income distribution when calculating a nation's well-being. And the European Commission is working on a new indicator that moves 'beyond GDP' to account for factors such as environmental progress.

Richard Layard, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of the 2005 book 'Happiness: Lessons from a New Science,' said Sarkozy may be seeking recognition for policies, popular in Europe, that promote well-being but don't show up in the GDP statistics.

Governments are rated on economic performance, and this influences policy in favor of boosting GDP, the value of goods and services produced over a calendar year, he said.

'But people don't want to think they live in a world of ruthless competition where everyone is against everyone,' Layard said. 'Valuable things are being lost, such as community values, solidarity.' "

Of course one may suggest that Sarkozy is pushing for this change because on paper France could do better in terms of unemployment or inflation, whereas most French people are not hurting for days off. But really, is using leasure time to measure a country's level of success such a bad idea? Americans are often said to be obsessed with money—it's certainly the image they have in Europe—but is it really so true? I'm pretty sure more than we'd expect would choose a balanced, happy life over the mere accumulation of money. (Or I may just be terminally deluded.) Income distribution also is a huge problem in the US, and I for one would be happy to see a country go down the ranks when the disparity between high and low salaries is too high.

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