The Happy Planet Index?

We have entered an era where a variety of organizations -- be they in the private or public sectors, or some combination of both -- attempt to quantify a range of socio-economic and/or environmental factors. In many (if not most) cases, serious concerns exist because the work is attempting to translate complex qualitative variables into single quantitative measures (witness my recent discussion on this site regarding problems with the Nuclear Annihilation Threat Index). The work would be even less troubling if such indices were not being used in attempts to shape policy, legislation, and even constitutional revisions in western democracies.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is produced by the New Economics Foundation. As we learn about the HPI, we see that the index purports to be:

"measure[ing] what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them ... it ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input ... [t]he HPI is a clear and meaningful barometer of how well a nation is doing."

The HPI is already appearing in documents calling for revisions to Canada's legislative and constitutional framework, such as the 2010 Ph.D. thesis of David Richard Boyd at the University of British Columbia entitled "The Environmental Rights Revolution: Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment." Boyd cites a prior version of the HPI on p. 475 of this thesis, stating that:

"[t]he four nations at the forefront of the Latin American rights revolution (Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina) are among the top 15 nations on the Happy Planet Index, which ranks 143 nations based on life expectancy, life satisfaction, and the ecological footprint."

Americans need to be wary of the HPI as well, since one can imagine various policymakers in the USA considering the use of this index in some form or fashion to push statist or green policies.

The HPI data and corresponding national rankings for 151 countries are available online. The results are troubling. Vietnam is ranked 2nd on the HPI, despite being a brutal authoritarian regime (it has a 2012 Democracy Index ranking by The Economist Intelligence Unit of 144 out of 167 nations) with no press freedom (Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 172/179 during 2013), massive corruption (Transparency International ranks it 123/174 during 2012), and one of the lowest per capita GDP values (123rd in the world). Venezuela, Cuba, and Pakistan are ranked 9th, 12th, and 16th, respectively.

Where is the United States? In 105th, ranked behind Ethiopia (94th), Egypt (91st), Azerbaijan (80th), Haiti (78th), Yemen (68th), Myanmar (61st), China (60th), Saudi Arabia (56th), Uzbekistan (54th), Syria (47th), Tajikistan (43rd), Laos (37th), Iraq (36th), and Algeria (26th), among many others, and barely holding off Djibouti (106th), Rwanda (108th), Afghanistan (109th), and Cote d'Ivoire (113th). But at least the USA is ahead of Belgium (107th), Denmark (110th), and Luxembourg (138th).

This author has seen many bizarre indices, but the HPI appears to be among the most notorious.

We have entered an era where a variety of organizations -- be they in the private or public sectors, or some combination of both -- attempt to quantify a range of socio-economic and/or environmental factors. In many (if not most) cases, serious concerns exist because the work is attempting to translate complex qualitative variables into single quantitative measures (witness my recent discussion on this site regarding problems with the Nuclear Annihilation Threat Index). The work would be even less troubling if such indices were not being used in attempts to shape policy, legislation, and even constitutional revisions in western democracies.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is produced by the New Economics Foundation. As we learn about the HPI, we see that the index purports to be:

"measure[ing] what matters: the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them ... it ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input ... [t]he HPI is a clear and meaningful barometer of how well a nation is doing."

The HPI is already appearing in documents calling for revisions to Canada's legislative and constitutional framework, such as the 2010 Ph.D. thesis of David Richard Boyd at the University of British Columbia entitled "The Environmental Rights Revolution: Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment." Boyd cites a prior version of the HPI on p. 475 of this thesis, stating that:

"[t]he four nations at the forefront of the Latin American rights revolution (Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina) are among the top 15 nations on the Happy Planet Index, which ranks 143 nations based on life expectancy, life satisfaction, and the ecological footprint."

Americans need to be wary of the HPI as well, since one can imagine various policymakers in the USA considering the use of this index in some form or fashion to push statist or green policies.

The HPI data and corresponding national rankings for 151 countries are available online. The results are troubling. Vietnam is ranked 2nd on the HPI, despite being a brutal authoritarian regime (it has a 2012 Democracy Index ranking by The Economist Intelligence Unit of 144 out of 167 nations) with no press freedom (Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 172/179 during 2013), massive corruption (Transparency International ranks it 123/174 during 2012), and one of the lowest per capita GDP values (123rd in the world). Venezuela, Cuba, and Pakistan are ranked 9th, 12th, and 16th, respectively.

Where is the United States? In 105th, ranked behind Ethiopia (94th), Egypt (91st), Azerbaijan (80th), Haiti (78th), Yemen (68th), Myanmar (61st), China (60th), Saudi Arabia (56th), Uzbekistan (54th), Syria (47th), Tajikistan (43rd), Laos (37th), Iraq (36th), and Algeria (26th), among many others, and barely holding off Djibouti (106th), Rwanda (108th), Afghanistan (109th), and Cote d'Ivoire (113th). But at least the USA is ahead of Belgium (107th), Denmark (110th), and Luxembourg (138th).

This author has seen many bizarre indices, but the HPI appears to be among the most notorious.

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