Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the Gross Domestic Product? You might be tempted to say "no," and scroll down hoping for the next picture of Shiloh Jolie-PItt, but the fact is that you will probably vote in November, and probably for the candidate you most trust to stave off this "recession" and the definition of recession is two consecutive quarters of a contraction in the Gross Domestic Product, which is to say, the aggregate sum of all the goods and services purchased in America, and that is why I am here to tell you that the Gross Domestic Product is kind of a fraud. I say this because I have been watching CNBC, the business news network, for the past several hours and in the midst of a financial crisis that is supposed to be shaking American capitalism at its foundation they have spent a preposterously inordinate amount of time on an unexpectedly positive earnings forecast from Tiffany.
Tiffany reported "same-store sales" growth of 1% nationwide — boosted by a 10% windfall at its New York store, driven entirely, I daresay, by tourists harnessing the pitiful value of the dollar, not that anyone on CNBC is saying so. No, they are all asking one another what it really means. Could the American consumer be more "confident" than recent surveys have suggested? Could it suggest that the masses are paying no mind to all this crazy recession talk and spending their stimulus checks in advance on their mid-tier "aspirational" luxury brands? Will they save the American economy yet again? It doesn't matter, really; talk like this is just a salve to a jittery market, the sort of salve that will keep greater fools — such as, say, the US government — pumping the stock market full of dollars that will keep the whole thing sufficiently afloat that enough will trickle down that blah blah blah "soft landing." The difference between recession and its absence is, after all, just a trickle. It is manipulable, to understate. But we buy into it, in the same stupid irrational way we buy into the Tiffany "brand."
Look, the more our population grows the more GDP grows. Other countries understand this. Japan, for instance, has spent practically the past twenty years with the financial community moaning about its stubborn inability to lift itself out of recession, but in actuality, it turns out, as GDP per capita goes, the country has been faring a lot better than us, because we've pumped our numbers by welcoming new people all the time to tend to our chicken coops and tend to the thankless drudgery of engineering class. We've pumped them in countless other ways, as well, from devising elaborate schemes to sell and trade and resell the same old crap — mortages, sex, sterling silver — in more appealing packaging. In stubbornly clinging to nothing but that aggregate number we have fostered a dynamism that has America great, but it has also made a lot of us miserable and stupid. Miserable and stupid and also, I should point out, confused as to the exact source of our misery.
All of which is a complex and long-winded introduction to a story I wanted you all to read about Bhutan, a country that has appointed a man to oversee something called Gross National Happiness. Bhutan is the type of poor, Third World country no one really holds up as a model of anything, which is why no one who matters would probably care that they take their national happiness so seriously, except for the fact that their GDP is actually growing about 7% annually, which is on par with India.
About one quarter of the country lives below the poverty line, and an expanding population of young people are in search of jobs, says Mr. Tshitseem. "We must keep up with the aspirations of our children," he says. But he says fast growth should also not usher in a consumerist invasion that affects the national mood.
The Center for Bhutan Studies, a local think tank, has been devising a way to quantify that mood. It is developing a GNH index based on extensive public surveys. Researchers have fanned out across the country, interviewing more than 1,000 households, according to Karma Ura, head of the center. The sample size is considered large in a country with only 750,000 people and not a single traffic light.
Outside the government high school in Thimphu, 29-year-old researcher Karma Wangdi recently interviewed Bhanaan Humagai, a 16-year-old high school student.
Question: On a scale of 10, how happy are you?
Question: How stressed are you?
Answer: Somewhat stressed. I am studying for exams.
Question: Have you ever thought of suicide?
Answer: No! (laughs).