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Indexing Happiness

scatter plot GDP per capita / North Korean Happiness Index

Rich countries poor souls, according to the North Korean Happiness Index. Data source: shanghaiist/wordbank

It’s official: China is the happiest country on earth. North Korea comes a close second, while the American Empire (the U.S.) ranks at the bottom of the list. That’s according to a Happiness Index released by – surprise! – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. For anyone outside Kim Jong-il’s monopoly of information, the index is a surreal and somewhat comical attempt to legitimize the government’s performance. The idea of measuring happiness in general, however, is not quite as far-fetched.

Indices like GDP per capita continue to dominate national debates about social and economic progress, but critics of this practice are no longer ridiculed. Traditional gauges of prosperity are seriously flawed; they do not, for example, take into account environmental degradation or the exhaustion of natural resources. And that’s only part of the problem. The more important argument is that measures such as the GDP disregard most factors that make life worth living.

The Economist has recently launched a debate about whether or not new measures of economic and social progress are needed for 21st century economies. Proposing the motion, Emeritus Professor of Economics Richard Layard argued that quality of life, as people actually experience it, must be a key measure of progress and a central objective for any government. An overwhelming majority of the readers agreed. » More

Who Is the Prime Minister of Japan, Again?

Naoto Kan is still Prime Minister of Japan. Image: WEF/Wikimedia Commons

Naoto Kan passed a vote of no confidence last week after he had promised to step down soon. (Let’s keep aside the discussion of what he meant by “soon”.) His problem was not so much the opposition, who initiated the vote but only holds a minority of seats in the Lower House. Kan’s authority is challenged from within his own Democratic Party. Already the second prime minister since the party finally managed to take power in 2009, Kan is criticized for his handling of the triple catastrophe that hit Japan in March. (Again, let’s not argue whether the criticism is justified; after all, I want to make a more general argument.)

The Democratic Party holds a solid majority in the crucial Lower House and the next general elections are two years away. Then why is the ruling party so obsessed with changing its leadership? (A bad habit the DPJ seems to have inherited from its predecessor, the LDP.) One answer might be that Japanese politicians care much, probably too much, about opinion polls. Another possible answer is that there is a culture of demission: ministers are expected to step down in order to show responsibility for something that has happened or something they have done. While accountability is a necessary feature of a democratic political system, the threshold for demission seems far too low in Japan*.

Let’s have a look at one consequence of this culture of demission. » More

This Week in ISN Insights…

It's week 23 on our editorial calendar, Photo: Leo Reynolds, flickr

Coming up this week in our ISN Insights coverage:

The Kofi Annan Foundation’s Albert Souza Mulli tackles the growing scourge of transnational organized crime on Monday.

On Tuesday, Professor John Mueller of Ohio State University opines about the overblown threat of nuclear weapons.

Dr Alex Wilner of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich argues that combating terrorism involves a better understanding of the radicalization process on Wednesday.

And on Thursday, Francesco Milan, a Researcher with the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization, previews Turkey’s 12 June general elections.

And in case you missed any of last week’s special, expanded coverage of the International Security Forum, catch up here with articles on: US-Iranian relations; envisaging the security challenges of a post-nuclear world; uncovering “participationist Islam”; reversing the excesses of post-9/11 policy; developing a more realistic cyberwar threat assessment; and managing China’s rapid rise.

Making Sense of the Arab Spring

Arab spring, not flower revolution: Fawaz A Gerges (LSE) and Volker Perthes (SWP) on the opening panel of the 2011 International Security Forum. Photo: Tim Wendel/ISN

On Wednesday, 1 June, the 9th International Security Forum closed its doors to three days of intense political debate and passionate shoulder rubbing. The highlights were many and varied, yet the 450 participants will surely keep the fondest memories of the event’s first panel discussion, which put the conference on the right track, and set the tone for the following days.

“‘Let’s import a new government’ labor activists joked. This was after the regime threatened to import workers from Bangladesh, if we asked for higher wages”. Nehad Abul Komsan from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) described the Egyptian revolution on the opening panel last Monday. Hosni Mubarak is gone but problems remain. According to Yossi Alpher from bitterlemons publications the socio-economic troubles, which are partially responsible for the upheaval in Northern Africa and the Middle East, will continue to pose a big challenge for any new leadership.

John W Limbert from the US Naval Academy examined Iran’s role in the Arab Spring in his statement. As in the past, Iran seems to be excluded from progressive developments taking place in its neighborhood. “Tunisia could, Iran not” is a slogan among Iranian progressives, who are again frustrated by their country’s backwardness. Ambassador Limbert went as far as to say that Iran’s leadership is humiliated by regional developments. It did not even manage to protect its Shiite fellows in Bahrain. » More

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