29 June 2007

Quantifying Peace and Happiness

Recently eRenlai relayed an analysis according to which armed conflicts in the world had actually diminished. A new index was released in May: the Global Peace Index (GPI) which ranks 120 countries of the world by their peacefulness and which also sets some drivers of their peace. Among the wide range of indicators (24) chosen to conduct the studies, we find: military expenditure, number of external and internal armed conflicts fought, level of respect of human rights, criminal rate…
As for me, I have observed that
-7 of the 10 most peaceful countries stand in Europe
-Many of the most peaceful countries have been very aggressive ones in the past (Japan ranks 5th for example, Germany 12th).
-Taiwan ranks at the 36th position, two ranks behind France (34th) but 24 ones before China (60th)!

There is definitively a move towards devising indexes helping us to tackle the challenges ahead. In 2006, the
New Economics Foundation (NEF), located in the UK, published the Happy Planet Index (HPI) which aims to represent the relative efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being as experienced by their citizens. The calculation of the HPI is based on three indicators:
- ecological footprint, which measures how much land area is required to sustain a given population at present levels of consumption, technological development and resource efficiency, and is expressed in global-average hectares (gha).
- life-satisfaction which consists more or less in asking this question: “If you consider your life overall, how satisfied would you say you are nowadays?”
- and life-expectancy.

It is interesting to notice that both indexes share the same purpose: to quantify peace and happiness. Besides the GPI as well as the HPI displays the same purpose to build a strong link with matters of development and sustainability.
In both cases, the compilers or the developers of the GPI and the HPI emphasize the need for new indexes as it appears that measuring the income, the GDP of a country seems to be not enough anymore. Still, if the conclusions drawn after the HPI do not show a causation between richness and happiness, on the other hand, the GPI analysis draws a correlation between per capita income and peacefulness (mostly in the measure of internal peace). For example, the most peaceful country according to the GPI is Norway which appears to be 115th out of the 178 countries listed by the HPI. Is it also a “happy” coincidence that 9 of the first tenth happiest countries in the world are from Latin America (the second one being Colombia which ranks 116th for the GPI, i.e. among the lowest)?!

This still raises the question whether peace brings economic prosperity or the opposite.
Usually, we tend towards the first position. As Bob Ronald recalls it in his
essay about justice: “Where there is justice there should be peace and harmony. To me a just world order would be one in which each nation respects the boundaries of other nations, the citizens of each nation have equal opportunities for education, health care, and employment according to their abilities and aspirations, everyone has adequate housing and financial security, citizens may freely travel from place to place, commerce between nations is flourishing honestly and properly.”

The equation becomes more complicated if we add the notion of happiness: is it peace that breeds economic prosperity which can leads in turn to happiness or is it economic prosperity which breeds peace and then happiness? Another version of the old story of the egg and the hen.

All analysis and information about the Global Peace Index on

The Happy Planet Index on

Bob Ronald’s vision of justice on http://www.erenlai.com/index.php?aid=1002&lan=3
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