Last week, the UNDP published the 20th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report. This publication represents a major milestone for a development paradigm that fundamentally changed the way many states, multilateral organizations, civil society, and by extension the masses, view human progress and development. Last week when I broke down parts of the new Human Development Report over two posts [2010 Human Development...& Making Sense...] I began to wonder what the next major paradigm shift would bring with regard to our ability to understand and measure ‘development’. While there is no shortage of alternative visions for the development sector, I recently came across one that was particularly intriguing: The Happy Planet Index. Before I introduce this new index, however, I thought it necessary to slip in a very brief and simplified version of how development has been measured over the past few decades.
In the 1970′s and 1980′s ‘Development’ was widely viewed as an issue of economic growth. As a result, it was generally accepted that countries with a high GDP/GNI were developed countries and that those on the other side of the spectrum could be ‘developed’ by promoting economic growth and market liberalization.
In the late 1980′s, however, it was clear to a select few that economic indicators like the GDP, GNP, and GNI alone were insufficient to adequately illustrate changes in human progress and development. To address this substantial gap, economist Mahbub ul Haq devised a new set of indices called the Human Development Index which had the explicit purpose of ”shift[ing] the focus of development economics from national income accounting to people centered policies” (Haq 1995). Working collaboratively with a high profile group of economists, including Paul Streeten, Frances Stewart, Gustav Ranis, and perhaps most importantly, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Haq compiled the first UNDP Human Development Report published in 1990. This new index broadened significantly the scope of the development sector, and placed health and education alongside gross national income as the three fundamental pillars of human development.
For the past 20 years, the concept Human Development, alongside Sen’s concept of capability, has been one of the most significant frames through which development practitioners, policy makers, and academics have viewed development. As a result, health, education, and economic growth are at the center of most development projects and interventions. Over the past few years, however, one group has been asking a question that extends, in a fairly radical way, the lens through which we view progress: What if Development was measured by happiness?
While concepts like Gross National Happiness and Happiness economics are already a few decades old, the New Economics Foundation has been promoting an index since 2006 called the Happy Planet Index (HPI) that measures happiness and sustainable development. This past July one of the key statisticians responsible for promoting the HPI presented at TED. While I could break down the HPI in this post, there is little use competing with TED or the presenter Nic Marks. Instead, smile, take a look at the video, and feel free to leave a comment below with your impression of the HPI.
“Nic Marks: The Happy Planet Index | Video on TED.com.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Aug. 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/nic_marks_the_happy_planet_index.html>.
Haq, Mahbub ul. 1995. Reflections on Human Development. New York: Oxford University Press.