A new economic development paradigm
The high-level meeting on “Happiness and Well Being: Defining A New Economic Paradigm” convened by the Royal Government of Bhutan on April 2 at United Nations headquarters in New York City took a major step towards a sustainable, holistic, inclusive, and equitable new economic development paradigm for the global community.
The conference was attended by about 700 political and government leaders, scholars, economists, philosophers, scientists, media, civil society, UN officials, entrepreneurs, and spiritual leaders from the world’s major faiths.
Two hundred participants continued intensive discussions on April 3 and 4 to work out details of the goals of the conference: to submit a report to the Secretary General of the United Nations for distribution to all UN member states; to distribute a set of recommendations for national economic policies, based on happiness and well being, to all heads of government around the world; to draft a new development paradigm to be submitted to the UN General Assembly next year; and to build a global movement and design a communications strategy to enhance the global understanding of well being and happiness and advance the new economic paradigm.
The conference proposed that the Bhutanese Prime Minister, Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, convene a commission of experts to expand on the dimensions of the new economy. The Prime Minister will also present the report of the conference at the Rio+20 UN Commission on Sustainable Development to be held in Brazil in June.
“A great beginning has been made but it is the end that we must strive for,” Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said at the conclusion of the three-day discussions. “I hope that by 2015 the international community will have adopted a sustainability-based economic paradigm committed to promoting true human well-being and happiness, and ensuring at the same time, the survival of all species with which we share this planet.”
Inspired by the Bhutanese development philosophy of Gross National Happiness, the April 2 conference was a follow up of the 2011 UN Resolution that invited member countries “to pursue the elaboration of additional measures that better capture the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies”. The resolution was co-sponsored by 68 countries and endorsed by all the member nations of the United Nations.
“Gross National Product has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when he inaugurated the conference. “Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. Bhutan recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income in the early 1970s.”
Among the UN leadership and representatives of governments were the President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser; President of the Economic and Social Council, Mr. Milos Koterec (POSSIBLY GET THE ACCENT MARKS FEROM GOOGLE); and the UNDP Administrator, Ms. Helen Clark, who chaired the opening session. High-level representatives of governments around the world addressed the conference, with the keynote address given by Ms. Laura Chinchilla, President of the Republic of Costa Rica, a country which is universally recognized for its outstanding achievements in environmental conservation and its exemplary sustainable development record.
Ms. Chinchilla said that there were many paths to happiness. “Human history as well as current realities, teach us that the paths to well-being are deeply connected to the respect for dignity, and the creation of opportunities to freely pursue our full and harmonious realization as part of the natural and social milieu,” she said. “But the more global initiative, unanimously embraced by the United Nations, is the one launched by Bhutan. It is thanks to this initiative that we have met today, in this house of all the people of the United Nations, and from now on we will be players in its evolution.”
Representing the Prime Minister of India, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan, thanked Bhutan for bringing happiness to the discourse on sustainable development. “We share your belief that human development should be based in equal measure on material progress, social inclusion, cultural life and living in harmony with nature,” she said. “Our religious traditions, and philosophies have all taught us to look for inner peace and happiness as the ultimate objective.”
The conference focused on a new economic paradigm in a perspective of four dimensions with well-being and happiness as the accepted purpose of development. “I believe that the majority of people around the world today are contemplating the issue of the soundness of the present way of life and the need for a different way of life,” said Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley. “They are seeking a way of life that is more meaningful, sustainable, just and equitable, a way of life that will lead each of us to an ultimate goal, and that is happiness.”
Expert panelists spoke on strategies to reach this goal. Leading ecological economist, Robert Costanza, pointed out that there had been dramatic changes in the world. “We no longer live in a relatively empty world,” he said. “We live in a whole new geologic era. We’ve also framed this issue in a very negative way. We need a better way of integrating these different perspectives. We’re also learning that complex systems behave in complex ways. We can’t expect things to behave smoothly… And the basic point here is that sustainable human happiness requires a healthy ecological life system, so I think that’s one of the primary building blocks of a sustainable and desirable future.”
The Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, said that the goal of human well-being must include all of humanity – women and men, girls and boys. “When I’m talking about inclusiveness, I’m talking about what is the kind of world we are dealing with today where, out of seven billion people 5.1 billion, or 75% of the world, are not covered with any minimal social security – a world that is so high in inequalities,” she said. “We need ethical leadership that can ensure fair distribution that is demanded everywhere, by those who are crying and asking for freedom and social justice in their world… so we need leadership to uproot greed, corruption, and repression.”
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz said that efficient use of resources was critical. “What we measure affects what we do, and the reason for creating better metrics is to affect our policy, and that’s why it’s so important what Bhutan has done – Gross National Happiness – it really does change policy frameworks,” he said. “We have to be very conscious that people in our society, different people are experiencing different things, and our commitment to equitable development means that we have to focus on the experiences not of the average but on what’s happening to all of our citizens, including those at the bottom and middle.”
While panelists focused on the dimensions of the new economic paradigm, the conference heard impassioned statements by personalities known for seminal academic work and thinking on happiness, well-being, sustainability, and the economy. Buddhist scholar Matthieu Ricard emphasized the importance of mind training and interpretation of happiness as a skill. “In the end, it is our mind that translates the outer conditions into either genuine happiness or misery,” he explained. “It is our mind that we deal with from morning till evening. It is our minds that can be our best friends, our worst enemy. So we should not underestimate the power of mind to conjour happiness or suffering. Happiness is a way of being that comes with genuine altruistic love, serenity, that can be cultivated as a skill day after day, month after month.”
A day before the conference the Earth Institute at Columbia University hosted a meeting of about 100 academics, scientists, and philosophers, including four Nobel Laureates, to discuss the “World Happiness Report” which was released on April 2 at the conference. The report presents methodological tools, assessment procedures, and scientific support for the measurement of happiness as a development indicator and also grades the countries of the world on these new dimensions.
Director of the Earth Institute, Jeffrey Sachs, said that large-scale collection of happiness data will improve macroeconomic policy-making and can inform service delivery. “Four steps to improve policy-making are the measurement of happiness, explanation of happiness, putting happiness at the centre of analysis, and translation of well being research into design and delivery of services,” he said.
Spiritual leaders from different faiths – a Buddhist monk, a Christian leader, a Jewish Rabbi, an Islam leader, and a Hindu swami addressed the conference on the importance of well-being and happiness from spiritual perspectives and led the gathering in prayers.
The conference was watched by several million people through conventional and social media that allowed both images and sounds of the visibly enthusiastic media to be picked up by the digital world.
The Bhutanese delegates at the conference said that the global response was overwhelming and that the expectations of the global community were somewhat intimidating and also inspiring for Bhutan.