In Ruchir Shama’s opinion piece last month, he wrote about recent efforts to move “beyond…
By GNHUSA President Rob Moore
When I was choosing between graduate programs five years ago, I recall having a phone conversation with a current graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy.
“So, do you ever talk about other measures of value at Berkeley? You know, besides dollars and cents?” I asked, perhaps naively.
The current student was honest with me.
“I wish we did. But really, we mainly learn about the same old measures: dollars, cents, and GDP.”
I ended up getting a great education at Berkeley and even ended up taking a student-led class on policy theory, hitting hard at the foundations of those questions I was interested in as a student early on. I found myself coming around on a lot of mainstream microeconomic analysis, especially as I learned more about market failure and tradeoffs between economic efficiency and the value of equity, both ideas fleshed out rigorously in neoclassical microeconomics.
In class, though, we overwhelmingly focused on mainstream microeconomics, sometimes drifting into the study of equity through a poverty or inequality lens. It was through my own reading that I came across frameworks such as the Human Development Index and the Securing Economic Rights and Freedoms index, which both take a rigorous approach to measuring the multidimensional capabilities of a population, something I thought would be more center stage in the policy analysis world than it was.
After graduate school, I saw that the real world was even further from focus on welfare (or “well-being” as we like to call it nowadays) than grad school was. Public conversations centered on budgeting rather than outcomes for people when it talked with rigor about effectiveness at all. I started to grow a bit disillusioned with the policy analysis world.
It was then I came across Gross National Happiness USA. I found the organization simply surfing the web and watched from afar as Paula Francis conducted her Happiness Walk across the United States. In September of 2018, I joined the board as a member, finally finding a place for me to work on promoting new ways to looking at progress and success in the US. And just in July, I accepted the nomination to lead the organization as its board president.
Up to this point, Gross National Happiness USA has been a powerhouse for raising awareness of new measures of progress and success. The organization’s conferences have brought people from around the country to talk about what it means to bring happiness into the public policy conversation. Happiness Walkers have interviewed thousands of people in states across the country about the meaning of happiness and brought the conversation about happiness to local news outlets from coast to coast. The Charter for Happiness and Happiness Dinners have put the happiness conversation into the hands of grassroots members.
Today, we stand at a crucial point for the organization. The Happiness Walk has concluded and we are currently analyzing the data and preparing to share it with the academic community and broader public. This month, we took the first step in a new five-month strategic planning session, setting priorities that will take us all the way to 2024.
What next steps we take will depend on the will of the board members and the broader grassroots community of people who think we can think bigger about progress and success in the United States. What I know is that whatever direction we take, it will be squarely focused on the mission of thinking of welfare in a bigger way than dollars, cents, and GDP.