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Jeremy Hobson: Almost every morning we get some economic indicator from the government. Today, we’re going to get the Consumer Price Index, tomorrow there’s the index of leading economic indicators. We often look to those as a measure of how we’re doing, but if that’s the question, why doesn’t a government statistician just ask us how we’re doing?
Well in Britain there’s word that the government is, for the first time, going to do regular surveys of the happiness and well-being of the British people.
For more on this, let’s turn to Marketplace’s Economy 4.0 correspondent David Brancaccio. David, good to see you.
DAVID BRANCACCIO: Good to see you Jeremy.
HOBSON: Why are the Brits doing this now?
BRANCACCIO: Well it was a bit of a campaign promise by the newish British prime minister David Cameron. Britain will be one of the first countries to move ahead on this, after French president Sarkozy and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz were, among others, calling for countries around the world to start measuring well-being. Now of course, the Brits don’t often listen to the French, much less the Americans. But Canada now does ask well-being questions of their residents, but it’s not an official regular government stat, as is being contemplated in Britain.
HOBSON: It seems like it would take some courage for the British to be asking about happiness right now.
BRANCACCIO: Yeah, you think? Given all the public sector layoffs in that country, it does take some intestinal fortitude politically. But here’s the thing when you think about it: when do you want to start asking the Brits about their happiness — fourth quarter of 2008, when we were tumbling into the economic abyss? The earliest they could get this rolling is maybe next spring, so maybe it’s a bet by the British government that the business cycle will be on their side and that moving forward, they can take credit for maybe happiness going up.
HOBSON: The people will actually say they’re happy. What’s wrong, David, with just measuring the normal stuff — income, economic growth — stuff like that?
BRANCACCIO: Those are all important but they don’t perfectly correlate with how well people are doing. You have GDP going up, maybe health care’s not going up, maybe educational opportunities are not going up. So if you really want to know, are we better off now than before — the crucial political question — you have to get data about this sometimes subjective idea of happiness, well-being.
HOBSON: And quickly, do you think we’ll get an index like this in the U.S.?
BRANCACCIO: Maybe soon. We do have this thing, Measure of America. It’s like a big report card, it just came out the other day. It takes a look Congressional district by Congressional district across the country, at education, at income, at health care. It gives us a kind of happiness reading.
HOBSON: All right, Marketplace’s Economy 4.0 correspondent David Brancaccio, who looks very happy here in the studio in New York. Thanks very much.
BRANCACCIO: You’re welcome.
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