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Editorial

Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB

03/29/2017

Abbot Peter NovecoskyWhat is happiness worth?

This month two interesting, and perhaps related, reports were released that provide a marker to the world’s health.

The first was the World Happiness Report. The second was Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people.

The happiness report shows that Norway is the happiest country on Earth. It rose to the top spot despite the plummeting price of oil which is a key part of its economy.

The United States, however, was in 14th place, down from No. 13 last year. While most countries were either getting happier or at least treading water, America’s happiness score dropped five per cent over the past decade.

However, in the list of the richest people on Earth, the United States continues to take the top spot. 

The global population of billionaires, now put at a record 2,043 according to BBC News, marks the biggest annual increase in the 31 years since Forbes’ magazine began compiling the list. The number of U.S. billionaires on the list was 565, which the magazine attributed to the recent stock market surge since President Donald Trump’s November 2016 election. China was second with 319 billionaires and Germany was third with 114.

For the record, Trump slipped 220 spots to 544 and must now get by on just $3.5 billion.

The number of women on the list rose to 227 from 202, giving them a collective net worth of $852.8bn. For the second year running France’s Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oreal cosmetics heiress, was the world’s wealthiest woman with a $39.5 billion net worth.

Most of the richest women inherited their fortune, Forbes said. But the list also contained 15 new “self-made” women, mostly from Asian countries, including Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao of budget airline VietJet air.

While the weath of individuals creates a fair degree of public curiosity, it does not translate into a barometer of happiness. The Happiness Report indicates that a sense of community is a major stimulus for a satisfied population.

Canada sits at the No. 7 spot on the happiness report, a drop from No. 6 a year ago.

Analysts indicate that “pro-social behaviour,” which includes helping strangers, declined sharply between 2001 and 2011 in the States, but not in Canada.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, co-author of the happiness study, said the sense of community is deteriorating in the United States. “We’re becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising.”

Federal statistics and surveys normally measure such factors as income, spending, health and housing. Is this a fair measure of a country’s well-being?

In 2013, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended that federal statistics and surveys should include a few extra questions on happiness and emotional well-being because it would lead to better policy that affects people’s lives.

“It’s the human things that matter. If the riches make it harder to have frequent and trustworthy relationship between people, is it worth it?” John Helliwell, lead author of the report and an economist at the University of British Columbia, commented. “The material can stand in the way of the human.”

Another report was issued last month that helps explain Norway’s rise to the No. 1 spot from No. 4 in the last report. Decades ago Norway set up a rainy day fund that has made it very rich. In socialist-leaning Norway, oil profits — including from state-run Statoil — are taxed up to a whopping 78 per cent, and that’s where the seed money for its sovereign wealth fund comes from. It invests the money, mostly in stocks, 

It’s an idea that Canadian politians have been loathe to adopt.