The time is ripe to view hu­man de­vel­op­ment as part and par­cel of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is direc­tor of the Asian Re­search In­sti­tute of Bank­ing and Fi­nance, Univer­siti Utara Malaysia

shift in think­ing is needed. For this, the time is ripe to view the no­tion of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment as hu­man de­vel­op­ment. What this im­plies is that, when we talk about growth, the story is not merely about pro­duc­tion and in­come per se, but above all, to put peo­ple’s well-be­ing and hap­pi­ness at the core of the nar­ra­tive. As GDP is meant for the mea­sure­ment of ag­gre­gate out­put, mea­sure­ment for well-be­ing and hap­pi­ness must also be put in place so that it can be eval­u­ated and im­proved from time to time. We have our own well-be­ing in­dex, but to measure and un­der­stand sub­jec­tive well-be­ing and hap­pi­ness, we need a mea­sure­ment that is uni­ver­sal and com­pa­ra­ble to other coun­tries as well. To­wards this end, per­haps the World Hap­pi­ness Re­port, pub­lished by the United Na­tions, can be the start­ing point.

The World Hap­pi­ness Re­port 2017, the fifth re­port since the first was pub­lished in 2012, analy­ses the lev­els, changes and de­ter­mi­nants of hap­pi­ness among and within na­tions. It places greater at­ten­tion on so­cial foun­da­tions of hap­pi­ness for both in­di­vid­u­als and na­tions based on six cru­cial vari­ables — GDP per capita, healthy years of life ex­pectancy, so­cial sup­port, trust (as mea­sured by a per­ceived ab­sence of cor­rup­tion in govern­ment and busi­ness), free­dom and gen­eros­ity. Of the 155 coun­tries eval­u­ated, this year’s rank­ing shows Malaysia stand­ing at 42nd place, an im­prove­ment of five places from last year’s 47.

Malaysia is, in fact, the fourth hap­pi­est coun­try in Asia. The point here is that, while Malaysia is head­ing in the right di­rec­tion now, we do not want that by 2050, the dystopian sce­nario pro­jected in the ar­ti­cle to be­come a re­al­ity. Hence, ef­forts need to be dou­bled from now. For spe­cific mea­sures, per­haps the Fit Malaysia pro­gramme can be ex­panded to not just be­ing a spring­board for Malaysia to be­come a true sport­ing na­tion, but also is­sues of well-be­ing and hap­pi­ness of Malaysians.

Per­haps the def­i­ni­tion of “fit” could be ex­panded not just to in­clude phys­i­cally, but also men­tally, psy­cho­log­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally. Even in sports, we know that be­ing phys­i­cally fit is not enough; equally im­por­tant is the psy­cho­log­i­cal di­men­sion of fit­ness among our sports­men.

The other as­pect that re­lates to hap­pi­ness is arts and cul­ture. In the World Hap­pi­ness Re­port, one of the main classes in mea­sur­ing hap­pi­ness is eu­dai­mo­nia, that is, a sense of mean­ing and pur­pose in life. I be­lieve that to have a sense of mean­ing and pur­pose in life, arts and cul­ture play a cru­cial role. Maybe be­sides build­ing sky­scrapers, it is time for Malaysia to build a cul­tural cen­tre, es­pe­cially in the area of greater Kuala Lumpur or in Ban­dar Malaysia.

Un­der­stand­ing and be­ing proud of our arts, cul­ture and his­tory will give us a sense of be­long­ing and will even­tu­ally fos­ter eu­dai­mo­nia and hap­pi­ness in us. Com­ment­ing on the 2017 World Hap­pi­ness Re­port, Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Razak said in his blog: “It’s use­less if we have high in­comes but are not happy.”

As gross do­mes­tic prod­uct is meant for the mea­sure­ment of ag­gre­gate out­put, mea­sure­ment for well­be­ing and hap­pi­ness must also be put in place so that it can be eval­u­ated and

im­proved upon from time to time.

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