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.