Tue, Jan 14, 2020 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan could be a leader in well-being

By David Pendery 潘大為

A Thomson Reuters Foundation article published in the Taipei Times (“Can nations prosper by putting well-being before GDP?” Jan. 6, page 7) presented an idea that I quite like, and which might reveal the hardcore liberal, latitudinarian that I am — I have never voted for a single Republican.

I have commented on this in the past, praising Bhutan’s move in the 1970s toward a well-being, happiness-oriented society and economy. With Bhutan’s focus on psychological well-being, health, education, the nature and management of time, cultural diversity, effective governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and living standards, all I can say is: “Here, here!”

My question here is: Can Taiwan be a leader in this undertaking and its goals?

Taiwan has been ranked as the happiest country in East Asia and the 25th-happiest in the world, according to last year’s World Happiness Report; the nation has only become happier in the past few years.

There have also been local surveys examining happiness levels in Taiwan, so the movement is alive in the nation, and I have a feeling that many Taiwanese are indeed thinking of just what these metrics mean as they look at their lives and how they can be more content.

The bottom line is that this is something that people everywhere want — and the whole idea of GDP as a strict measure of everything that is best in a society is being looked down upon more.

With that said, we might turn to an opinion piece by Walter Lohman that was published on the same day (“Accentuate the positive going into the new year,” page 6).

In this piece Lohman takes exactly the wrong view, and celebrates all that is great about ultra-free markets.

Taiwan, he says, “values markets over state planning, free flow of goods and services over protectionism. This is generally the same in Washington.”

To be sure it is, and ever since the Washington Consensus foisted on the world the worst ideas about economic development and planning, the idea of endless privatization, deregulation, slashing government support and forbidding austerity measures has resulted not only in a seethingly hostile anti-globalization, anti-liberal markets response, but also in economic inequality and wealth concentration in the top percentiles of the ultra-wealthy.

Such ideas have for years been largely denounced.

Now admittedly, as the first piece said: “A focus on sustained economic growth has helped raise hundreds of millions of Asians out of poverty,” and this will always be important.

Nobody is dismissing the idea of economic prosperity outright, and this model has added to happiness levels everywhere, but this economic planning, in the best sense, very much requires state planning.

So, Taiwan, it is in your hands. Can you make your people happier, more content, comfortable, satisfied with their nation and its governors, and veritably elated with their neighbors and all the people that visit the nation?

Let us hope this is true, and Taiwan can branch away from a draconian, rigid look at economics — the “management of the home,” not “make every penny possible and to hell with anyone that disagrees.”

To achieve economic success and related levels of contentment we must “take into account concepts like well-being so that we ensure our economic system is truly aligned with societal goals,” as Gemma Corrigan, lead, sustainable markets at the World Economic Forum, said in the first article.

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