Monday, November 22, 2010

Reflecting on the Global Happiness Index Stimulated by a great TED lecture

TED talks occupy a distinctive place in the world of ideas between the best kind of well argued op ed article, and the lively and interesting lecture. At their best they engage their audiences as few of those latter two formats can when they reveal a lecturer who is both passionate about the ideas he or she presents and able to compress the key ideas into a lively 18 minutes. Rarely do the best of these presenters use video aids and seldom Power Point--they use instead old fashioned human powers of communication. In 18 minutes, you cannot afford to pad out your ideas or condescend, you must energize and sometimes inspire your audience with the power of your words. The format proves awfully good at busting through the heavy fog of the conventional wisdom.

The best at the game are deeply knowledgeable about their fields and use skillfully chosen examples that connect with their audience and many of the best are not traditional academics, they are simply engaged people who through dint of their passion have made their ideas count.

Take the one I heard the other day by Nick Marks, he is a UK statistician the founder of the Centre for Well-Being, an independent think tank at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), in London. Marks asks the simple question as to why we are so obsessed with measuring a country's success through measures of economic growth rather than measures of happiness. He has developed something called the Happy Planet Index which shows the relationship between national well being and the amounts of resource it takes to be happy. In the US we take a lot of the word's resources but seem no happier as we consuming 25% of the worlds oil for just 2% of the world's population. The surprise is to find the country that is at the top of the league tables for happines is of all places, Costa Rica which abolished its military in 1949 and has a very broad social safety net for its citizens. Living in a country that seems bent on increasing the gap between the ones with the "have more than enough" and those struggling on the margins in the US and in developing countries this maybe a good time, as Nick Kristoff urges us, to rethink the US model that is leading us inexorably towards a banana state republic. Do the super rich really want to live in a banana republic? Surrounded by high walls, security guards and armored vehicles? As Warren Buffett points out he pays less percentage wise in taxes than his secretarial assistants. Is that their idea of happiness? Why they keep pressuring their Republican benefactors for more tax cuts is beyond me does sheer greed now control them? Maybe this TED talk can inspire them to change their misguided ways--enjoy!

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