No joy

Ross Gittins is trying to save economics from itself. Good luck.
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The Happy Economist

By Ross Gittins (HarperCollins, 2010) $39

Ross Gittins is trying to save the dismal science from itself. Good luck: economists dominate our news with acronyms, gobbledegook and superior pronouncements about the next quarter’s results and the past year’s failings. All the while they miss the really big stuff, like great financial collapse (duh!) and, according to Gittins, the things that really matter like happiness.

Gittins should know. As the economics editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and columnist for several Aussie papers, Gittins is a part of the daily noise about GDP, interest rates, foreign exchange, et al.

The Happy Economist is a lament that for all the noise we are still clueless about the sources and influencers of human contentment. Take GDP. This blunt instrument of economic activity has become the default measure of a country’s standing. But it fails to measure the quality of economic activity and takes no account of the damage caused to the environment or health as a result (so Beijing has growing GDP but a poor quality of life).

So far so good, but also so usual. The psychology of happiness is already well traversed in science and economics, The Undercover Economist and Freakonomics being the best of their kind. It takes Gittins 226 pages to diagnose the problem, leaving only 30 to propose a solution: the steady state economy. I really don’t get this low-growth, highly productive, healthy sustainable economy. I’d like to know more because right now it sounds a lot like utopia.

I give this book just one thumb up because like all the economists he criticises, he can tell me what’s wrong but can’t tell me how to fix it..

Vincent Heeringa is publisher of Idealog

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