Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Don't short the Joie de Vivre Index

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has had a good idea. Well, come on, everybody has one, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn from time to time, what?

M. Sarkozy suggested that the wealth of a nation can't be measured in purely materialistic terms like gross domestic product. If that's socialism, make the most of it. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president two years ago on a pledge to boost France's economic prosperity. Now he is suggesting a different way to measure that prosperity -- one that includes factors such as vacation time, health care and family relationships.

From now on, to gauge the economy's health, France will consider well-being in addition to the classic measure of gross domestic product, Mr. Sarkozy said Monday in a speech at the Sorbonne, part of the University of Paris.

One of the things I like about the French is that they value work-life balance. Okay, they don't like work that much. They balance a little work with a lot of life. So they have six weeks of vacation a year, and why not? True, France can't afford such extravagance since it's taken in a nation-within-a-nation of immigrants who on the whole don't contribute much and need a lot of tax money to keep them fed and mosqued, but that's a different issue entirely.

The French appreciate little daily pleasures that contribute to well-being: manners (the formal "Bonjour, madame/monsieur"), le vin, unhurried good meals (too unhurried for me; I go mental sitting in a restaurant for two or three hours). French women, especially parisiennes, take no end of trouble over their appearance, and the results are admirable.

So M. Sarkozy has a good point, and what does he do with it?

The so-called Stiglitz commission has been working at the French president's behest for 18 months on recommendations for measuring well-being. In its report, the group -- which includes 1998 Nobel laureate Amartya Sen among its two dozen members -- said tracking household income and consumption would provide a better indication of living standards than GDP. In the longer term, the panel said, governments must pay more attention to sustainability to determine what level of well-being can be maintained for future generations.

That's right. In statist-bureaucratic standard operating procedure, he appoints a commission on well-being. To find ways of measuring well-being!

It would probably never occur to Professor Sen (according to his Wikipedia entry, he received the Nobel gong for "his work on welfare economics"), but when you measure well-being by "household income and consumption," you aren't striking out in a new direction. Non, pas du tout! You're just looking at the old economics of getting and spending, the nonstop hamster wheel, from a slightly different angle.

The commission didn't propose a single composite indicator to replace GDP. Instead, it suggested that each country design its own basket of indicators, including such factors as unemployment, insecurity or inequality.

So France's basket of indicators wouldn't take notice of Chartres cathedral, the French literary tradition, or the taste of ripe brie. What kind of "indicator" would register those on an economist's graphs?

Much easier to sample the population's responses to a survey that can be computer-tallied and analyzed. Monsieur, on a scale of 1 to 10, how insecure are you? Are you feeling (a) more equal or (b) more unequal than you did last week?

"What we measure affects what we do," said Mr. Stiglitz, who also spoke at the Sorbonne. "If we have the wrong measures, we will strive for the wrong things."

On that, at least, we can agree.


zazie said...

do you know what ? In my time at the Sorbonne, professors and students used to be just a tiny bit more intelligent.....When I think that nowadays a Sarkozy is allowed to speak near Richelieu's resting place, I could shout with rage.
Something else, "la parisienne" could be found everywhere in France ; I guess that today she would be in Rome, or any Italian city ; this is true at least for the youngest or for the middle-aged ; the older women seem to remember how to dress or do their hair,even in the trendy districts of Paris.
As to the long, so long meals, don't worry : we now have enough McDo's to miseducate French people about food ; and of course, soon it will be difficult to find a pork-butcher in most suburbs, not mentioning wine-bars ....
I agree that we still have long holidays, but honesty demands that you admit that we USED TO have a good healthcare system, and a good pension-system too ; that was before we had imported so many "social problems" ....I guess this is no news to you, yet I felt I had to write it!
Thank you for your report of the demo in Washington ; it brought some fresh air. Is it true that your president chose that week-end to leave the White House?

MaryJ said...

Heh. when I was young, I used to puzzle over the meaning of the biblical adage "Man does not live by bread alone." Now I understand what it means all too well.

Whenever someone brings up the questionable economic "benefits" of mass immigration, i.e. the old "do you want to pay 10 dollars for a tomato argument," I always say, "My country means more to me than cheap tomatoes." It always throws them for a loop.

I am sick of the economic reductionists.

Rick Darby said...


I did not understand your comment about "la parisienne." Are you saying that Parisian women are no longer chic, or only women of some age group or social class are?

Unless things have changed a great deal since I was last there — and we are talking about the indigenous French, vous comprenez — French women may not be any more naturally endowed with beauty than those of other nationalities, but they seem to me to have an amazing ability to make the most of their assets, and not necessarily by wearing a lot of money. They have style. If this is no longer true, it is a great loss to civilization.

Yes, Obama was away from Washington on that remarkable day. But I doubt it would have made any impression on him if he'd been there. L’état, c'est lui.


Exactly. If I had thought to use your expression, "economic reductionists," I could have saved myself a few words.

zazie said...

life is difficult! I have just sent my answer through mi gmail account ; they say it has been sent, but it does not appear here..I hope you will finally get it.

MaryJ said...

The economic reductionists think of the US as an economy, not a country. Or a giant employment agency. But no one fights to defend a giant employment agency.

zazie said...

I have changed my google address, and it does not work too well! Obviously, my last message got lost somewhere in the clouds...
I just wanted to answer about the lack of real "élégance" in France nowadays.
I am not sure about social classes ; yet, I tend to think that for the young girls, this sense of "chic" can still be found in the upper -working class or the lower middle-class, provided these notions are still valid!
Among the well-off, it is fashionable to look destitute (ready-torn jeans!), it is trendy to look naughty (Britney, or Paris), except when Granny is around, when they all want to LOOK like Barbie!
As to the middle-aged -the mothers!-, they still want to look like Madonna, or like...their daughters! So ridiculous!
You will notice some real chic among the older women -and men too!-: they choose the tailoring and the colours matching their white hair (which they have the sense of keeping white), and they give more importance to their comfort than to their look ;
The problem is that the young show no sense of SELF RESPECT ; yhey can't BE anything ; they have been taught that to exist they must HAVE things ; when they can't have what they want, they just pretend, and are pleased as long as they LOOK as if they had it. So sad!
And don't forget that they are PC too, and such hypocrites. An example : well-off girls will imitate those in the suburbs, and will have "piercings" (is that the word you use?) ; but privately they will say : "mine is a genuine diamond, my dear!"

Rick Darby said...


Oh my. I am sorry to hear it. Plus ça change … ce n’est pas la même chose, après tout.

MaryJ said...

Sarko is such a buffoon; a fake conservative, just like Bush.