France may have given the phrase laissez-faire to the world, but it has never subscribed to the sort of purist free-market economic theory that dominates in the US and to a lesser extent here. No surprise then, that it was a French president who asked two Nobel prize-winning economists to think about how levels of happiness might become an important economic indicator.
Still, the ideas of Joseph Stiglitz and Armatya Sen, published by President Sarkozy yesterday, have their supporters in this country – most notably the LSE professor Richard Layard, who has argued for some time that a narrow focus on GDP is a poor target for economic policy because it neglects any consideration of human happiness.
In fact, this debate is about to become especially relevant. Next month the UK's recession will be formally declared over, with a return to a positive figure for GDP growth. Yet as Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, was arguing yesterday, those suffering the misery of unemployment – and we expect joblessness to continue rising well into next year – are hardly likely to be jumping for joy.
Will the bad news of unemployment be lost in a maelstrom of headlines about an economic recovery? It's possible. Take note, for example, in the excitement about the return of big deals in the M&A market – where the "operational synergies" quoted in deals such as the merger of T-Mobile and Orange in the UK are business jargon for job cuts.
Were we to worship at shrines other than GDP growth, however, as the French are now considering, unemployment might be more noticeable – and more ruthlessly tackled. Bonne chance.Reuse content