David Cameron's proposal to try to measure what the media are pleased to call our Gross National Happiness would have been received with derision by earlier generations of Conservatives, but his recognition that: "It's not just the economy, stupid." is to be welcomed.
It has long been recognised that crude GDP per capita figures are not a reliable guide to wellbeing in developing countries, and the UN has for a long time produced a Human Development Index (HDI) which, along with per capita GDP includes infant mortality rates, percentage of children in schools, adult literacy and longevity. Although developed countries are included in the index, the differentiation is not particularly meaningful.
Although no-one, as far as I know, has yet produced one, there are many ideas as to what should be included in an index of Gross National Wellbeing (GNW). Here are some:
1. per capita GDP needs to be included, but should be refined to deduct rather than add "bads" such as the use of non-renewable resources, pollution and the cost of clearing it up.
2. A measure of equality. The Gini Coefficient is an established and objective method of measuring this. As the work of Wilkinson and Pickett, among others, demonstrates, more equal societies are happier societies.
3. Medical factors such as infant mortality, longevity, the incidence of mental illness and stress.
4. Social factors such as crime rates and the proportion of people in prison, the incidence of suicide, the stability of marriages and partnerships,the extent of human rights, working hours and the number of holidays, the percentage receiving higher education, the level of unemployment and homelessness and access to cultural experiences.
There would need to be much discussion as to what should and should not be included, and the weighting given to each factor, but an internationally agreed index would be a useful tool of comparison between countries, and a useful measure of the success or otherwise of governments within countries.