Happy Planet

During a discussion about the project I am working on here in Bogotá, the professor here introduced me to a document produced in the recent past called the Happy Planet Index (put out by the The New Economics Foundation. It describes itself like this:
The Index is built from three different indicators, two of which are objective: life expectancy and the ecological footprint – a measure of our use of environmental goods and services. The third indicator is people’s subjective well-being, or ‘life satisfaction’. (It should be noted that the was people report their life satisfaction corresponds to objective facts such as their mental and physical health.)
They’ve set the target for 83.5, yet the highest is 68.2 attained by the island(s) nation of Vanuatu. The lowest is Zimbabwe’s 16.6.
The Happy Planet Index came about in a discussion about some life satisfaction questions that are part of a questionnaire we’re using for our analysis. Olga, wanted to show me the one-sided responses they’ve received to a question about how many times the respondent has been sick in the last 30 days. Over 60% said zero days. I thought and still think it’s in part the form of the question but she then pulled up the Happy Planet Index report to show me how ‘happy’ Colombia apparently is. The country is THE highest in South America, and arguably the best rating overall with a score of 67.2.

#1 in Asia? Vietnam. Hmmm, all places we (US) have a history with and that (for us) carry a stigma, and all places I’ve gone to spend some time. But the answer must be a bit more complicated than that. Neither of those points was mentioned in the report. To be certain, if you’re renowned for poverty, overthrown puppet governments, or drug wars and then you start to experience some economic recovery then those improvements are likely much more noticeable and the people in those places can get happy about that. Of course that doesn’t explain the whole ecological footprint segment. I expect that the footprints are both are getting larger. Olga told me that Colombia has been able to keep large amounts of the country naturally preserved. This in part is because of paramilitary, nonetheless those places aren’t being developed.

I think both Colombia and Vietnam have significant natural resources and their governments have done some things right. Bogotá, or at least its leadership has taken steps to give a better life to citizens. This speech from one of the city’s most famous major’s lays out some of the logic behind his actions to improve equality and quality of life for the city’s citizens. He even talks about economics of happiness and its role in public decision making. It doesn’t sound like typical politician speak. Or is it becoming more common. Quality of life rumored to be an asset for attracting economic development. You’ll even hear it in Atlanta when people like to bring up the abundance of trees and lack of cold weather. The Beltline is expected to preserve and even enhance this ‘quality’ of the life in the city. And in both of these cases it seems the power and influence of mayors may be on the rise.

But, back to the Happy Planet Index… Where is the US? Keep in mind that we’re probably at a point where incremental increases in national prosperity matter less to us individually but we scored a red 28.8.

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