Sarkozy proposes the joie de vivre index

The official measure of political success should be "revolutionised" to include happiness and well-being as well as growth, President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested today.

The French president said that he would lead a "fight" – starting at the G20 summit at Pittsburgh next week – to remove the "cult of figures" and the "cult of the market" from international definitions of progress and achievement.

Instead of material growth alone, he said, GDP (gross domestic product) should be expanded to include measures of genuine well-being, such as "leisure time" or the "quality of public service". France would start compiling such figures immediately, he said, and would battle to change the statistical systems used by all international organisations.

President Sarkozy was speaking at the Sorbonne University in Paris after formally accepting a report which he commissioned 20 months ago from a team of left-leaning or unorthodox economists, led by Joseph Stiglitz from the US, Amartya Sen from India and Jean-Paul Fitoussi from France. The report calls for a global "statistical system which goes beyond commercial activity to measure personal well-being."

Mr Sarkozy’s enthusiasm for a softer, less commercial currency of political and economic success may seem out of character. That depends which President Sarkozy you are talking about.

On one hand, there is the Nicolas Sarkozy who was elected in 2007 on a promise that France would "work harder and earn more". The same President Sarkozy recently pushed through legislation to encourage more French shops to open on Sundays. On the other hand, there is the President Sarkozy who announced early last year – before the global financial crisis – that the western world should develop a new "politics of civilisation", based on happiness and conservation, rather than riches and growth.

Since the near collapse of the world banking system a year ago, Mr Sarkozy has been arguing the need to "re-found" capitalism on greener and more "moral" lines. "For years, the official figures have boasted of more and more economic growth," he said yesterday. "It now appears that this growth, by placing the future of the planet in danger, destroys more than it creates… All over the world, people are convinced that we are lying to them, that the figures are false, or worse, faked. Nothing could be more damaging to democracy."

The President was rather vague, however, when it came to describing how a new system of GDH - gross domestic happiness - would work. He suggested that the new figures should include some way of measuring the benefits of leisure time, the quality of public services and also "personal services provided within a family circle". France, the country of the 35-hour week and good but expensive state health care, would score much higher in such an index than, say, Britain or the United States.

President Sarkozy is also planning to pick a more specific fight with other G20 leaders next week. His office let it be known yesterday that he would walk out – repeating his threat at the London G8 summit earlier this year – unless world leaders endorsed his plans for curbs on bankers’ bonuses.

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