International experts yesterday debated ways to measure the world’s well-being, in line with G20 calls for statisticians to take into account people’s happiness and not just their economic output.
The global economic crisis “has revealed the growing gap between official statistics and people’s perceptions of their standards of living,” said Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the OECD.
The four-day forum opened in the South Korean port city of Busan to investigate ways of “going beyond GDP” and produce a new set of data to better measure the quality of life.
Gurria told experts on the environment, development, business and social issues that without such new indicators, a “crisis of confidence” could erode trust in institutions and in democracy itself.
The OECD’s forum follows a call by G20 leaders at last month’s summit for statistics “to better take into account the social and environmental dimensions of economic development.”
It will also push ahead with the recommendations of an expert commission set up by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the subject.
The Sarkozy commission, chaired by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, wants to move away from indicators based on production to ones based on people’s well-being.
It says these should assess the levels of freedom, security and contentment as well as economic and ecological resources.
The idea of replacing GDP was pioneered by the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Starting in the 1970s, then-monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuck promoted “Gross National Happiness” as the goal of development rather than GDP.
Gurria, in a keynote speech, said even during the years of strong growth, “GDP was growing but most people did not necessarily feel better-off. Now, the problem is even more critical.”
In addition to the loss of jobs, pensions and houses so far, he predicted unemployment would continue to rise in most OECD countries throughout next year.
“Last but not least, the emergency rescue package that many countries put in place are often perceived as having mostly benefited the lucky and undeserving few,” Gurria said. “Going forward, there is a major risk that people will lose confidence in markets and institutions, and in the capacity of governments to address their problems. This is a major political challenge: We have to restore trust and we can only achieve this if policy action has tangible impacts on people’s life.”
Gurria said political momentum is now building for a new generation of statistics to focus on social well-being and progress as well as sustainability issues and various forms of inequality.
“Economic resources are not the only thing that matters in people’s life,” he said.