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Domestic happiness index

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-24 07:38
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We have heard plenty about improving the public's sense of well-being from local people's congresses and people's political consultative conferences. There have even been proposals in Guangdong and Shanghai to substitute a happiness index for gross domestic product as a yardstick for local development.

Such an index may or may not be written in local development programs in the end, but that the matter has been singled out and to some extent dictated policy discourse, does inspire optimistic expectations about the way we live. At the very least, we are hopefully waking up to the simple fact that swelling GDP alone does not deliver satisfaction. There is nothing worse than governments unaware of, or simply ignoring, the way people feel.

Therefore, no matter how they define and phrase it, we applaud all efforts conducive to the public's well-being.

Premier Wen Jiabao's claim of a commitment to "a happier and more dignified life" for the people of China needs substantial backup from the layers of government across the country.

Judging from what has been said, the general pattern appears to be centered around increasing income. Which is not bad. Various surveys and opinion polls have shown that the conspicuous disparity in income distribution is a main source of dissatisfaction for people. That discontent is worsening under the pressure of the rising CPI, as well as the rising prices of items ignored by official CPI compilers.

Boosting residents' disposable incomes is not only a necessary move to make good President Hu Jintao's vow of "inclusive growth", but also a moral imperative that tests the governments' proclaimed commitment to public welfare.

Yet, as we all know, happiness is highly subjective. A happy life, therefore, entails more than just the necessities of everyday life. It is important that our public finance places more weight on improving the conditions of the underprivileged, making a decent life accessible and affordable to them.

But life is as much about means as about meaning. And for many, the latter far outweighs the former. In a recent survey by the website of People's Daily, for instance, almost equal proportions of its more than 10,000 respondents chose "financial conditions and quality of life" and "regulation of public powers and public services" as a main factor influencing their sense of happiness.

That is consistent with what we can actually see - non-economic factors are assuming greater import in the public's sense of well-being. Abuse of public power and resources by Party and government functionaries as well as injustice and unfairness in everyday life are seriously undermining the average citizen's sense of security and happiness.

Which convinces us that governments can considerably improve people's sense of well-being simply by behaving themselves. This requires no extra-budgetary spending, but will save astronomical sums of public money from official banquets and behind-the-scenes dealings.

(China Daily 02/24/2011 page8)