Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

I’ll show you happy

The UK’s coalition government plans to introduce a Gross National Happiness index to better understand how public policy interacts with the social soul. British public opinion so far seems to range from the confused to the outright skeptical. “How much is this nonsense going to cost?” is one of the refrains.

I’m amused in a way (though I don’t know how measurably) that the initiative should raise so many eyebrows. Many have long argued that GDP measurements only tell one particular kind of tale, and that they don’t tell a particularly convincing story of how well off people really feel. Singapore, for example, may have one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs, but few would argue they enjoy one of the world’s highest or healthiest standards of living.

Bhutan, on the other hand, the nominally impoverished Himalayan kingdom that invites the pity and probably misplaced goodwill of materialist Western aid workers, is actually already one of the happiest places on Earth.

The Bhutanese themselves famously pioneered the measurement of national happiness to bolster their own case that the country is a great success story in terms of enabling people to lead enjoyable lives, which is the best thing any set of state institutions can ever really aspire to do. The Gross National Happiness index aggregates social and economic indicators across a range of areas, including psychological well-being, use of time, community vitality, health, governance, and environmental sustainability, among others.

The Guardian, ironically, decides instead to give some credit to the UK’s decision to Canadian pioneering in the area of happiness measurement.

Canadian statisticians and researchers also poll subjective wellbeing across the country, but the data have thus far not attracted much policy attention.

Indeed. In fact, the entire prospect of data gathering has not attracted much policy attention in Harperian Ottawa. Sigh.

But I’m happy with the UK’s effort to get to grips with this. All the happier if I get surveyed myself, which will suit their purposes quite well. So, yes – if there are ulterior political purposes underlining it, though, they’ll want to try to avoid sending out the happiness questionnaires during Tube strikes, rainy days, or after any English sporting devastation on the world stage. Which doesn’t leave a lot of time.

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Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , , ,

King George V steps down

We saw it in Nepal. We saw it in Bhutan. And now, ladies and gents, out of the Himalayas and into the Pacific, we’re seeing it in Tonga!

In each country, in just the past three years, monarchs have bowed out, giving way to democratic assemblies. And while the Nepalese experience was a mite bloodier and, partly as a consequence, life isn’t yet peaches and cream under the shadow of Sagarmatha, both the Bhutanese in 2008 and now the Tongans in July 2010 have experienced a largely peaceful transition (though not without the sometimes violent protest, which historians so often lionise) from politics by noble decree to imperfect-yet-hopefully-if-all-goes-to-plan-accountable democracy.

This (courtesy of the Pacific Islands News Association, whose URLs don’t always work) about the Tongan king, George V, who’ll remain a ceremonial monarch in the new constitutional system:

Tonga’s King George Tupou V is preparing to relinquish power as the country gears up for its first democratic elections, ending hundreds of years of feudal rule.

The government has published a new electoral roll and has called on the Pacific nation’s 101,900 citizens to add their names to the document so they can take part in the vote, which is due to be held on 25 November .

For the first time in the island’s history, most MPs will be elected by the people.

The Tongan parliament is stacked with nobles, chiefs and supporters of the royal family, most of whom have been directly appointed by the eccentric monarch.

It will mean the Oxford-educated king, known for his love of travel and playboy lifestyle, will remain head of state but will lose his executive powers, including the ability to appoint the prime minister and ministers.

A bachelor, the 62-year-old king is widely believed to be looking forward to stepping out of the limelight so he can concentrate on his hobbies, which include sailing model boats on his swimming pool, dressing up in military uniform and playing computer games.

The king has never married and is often seen travelling around Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, in his London cab, dressed in a Savile Row suit despite the tropical weather.

The election is part of Tonga’s transition from being one of the world’s last remaining sovereign monarchies, where the king almost single-handedly runs the daily business of government, to a constitutional monarchy.

In late 2006, anti-government riots in the capital, Nuku’alofa, left eight people dead and large parts of the town burnt to the ground.

The unrest forced the king’s coronation to be delayed by two years, but even before he was crowned in a lavish ceremony in 2008, he had realised the tide of public opinion had turned against the monarchy and pledged to give up his family’s constitutional right to rule.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister of Tonga, Dr Feleti a Sevele, said: “For us, it’s an evolutionary process of democracy.”.

Evolutionary – sometimes the most revolutionary route! Best of luck.

Filed under: International, Politics, , , , , , ,

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