Happiness. Everyone wants to know the secret formula. When I began writing about wellbeing budgets increasing happiness and wellbeing, I focused on how the biggest NATO spenders were often the unhappiest.
NATO seemed the first place to free up funds for better health and social care, which leads to increased happiness. Then Covid-19 arrived.
While Bill Gates has spent years warning of the timebomb that a pandemic would unleash on an unprepared world, still the war chests grew. Co-operation has been based on old wartime alliances or trade, not a global preparedness for a virus that could affect everyone, everywhere.
Post-Covid-19, a globally coordinated structure for health and prevention of diseases can be the only option to safeguard people and economies. Hindsight is irrelevant as is berating governments for the choices they have or have not made. This is the reset button.
Where war against one another has shaped human history, war against disease is the next chapter. As the UN Secretary General António Guterres said when he called for a global ceasefire, ‘The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war’.
I have stood in two elections advocating Universal Basic Income, less military spending, lower business rates and happiness economics to reset capitalism, which sparked debate and enthusiasm.
Now, with the unbelievable situation of the NHS and health as top priority and a Tory government spending from the magic money tree we were all told didn’t exist, here we are able to turn fantasy into reality. That reset in capitalism is here.
Within weeks, talk of nationalisation of private infrastructure and reliance on the lowest paid sectors to keep things afloat has torn up the rule book. The pandemic has given the world a unique chance to not only reset capitalism, but also to restructure society.
The question pre Covid-19 was can we reset capitalism in a morally conscious economy without compromising free enterprise, and also rank highly on the happiness index? The simple answer has always been yes. If we wanted. However, happiness, is not possible without good health.
Gross National Happiness instead of GDP has long been discussed on the periphery of politics. Happiness economics in its simplest form uses wellbeing to guide policy.
In Britain both Cameron and Brown briefly flirted with happiness economics as a remedy to heal the divisions in British society.
Only New Zealand took the bold step of introducing a Wellbeing Budget and while the Nordic region does not expressly use happiness economics, their systems are based on prioritising wellbeing.
With dying party allegiances, happiness economics became the new buzz phrase to capture the imagination of a bored electorate who focus on causes not parties. After the underwhelming NATO conference in Britain last year, it is clear.
The path to happiness lies in neutrality or at the very least reduced defence spending.
Should the question all along been less on leaving the EU and more on leaving NATO? Could anyone now justify spending for war?The moment has come to make globalisation a force for good.
Out of the top ten countries in the happiness index, four are not in NATO, and none of the top five NATO spenders rate highly in the happiness stakes. After the US complaints about the lower contributions from other members, we must look at the correlation between less military spending and the happiness of a nation.
The Nordic region, where a free market and mixed economy coexists with a generous welfare state constantly top the happier countries. Finland ranks number one and Sweden number seven, both outside of NATO, and Denmark and Norway whilst in NATO are some of the lowest contributors.
Is being neutral the path to greater happiness?
Certainly investment in the welfare state and less interest in conflicts means that many in the Nordic region while worried about Covid-19, are somewhat less concerned with the financial problems it will bring than Britons are.
For Britain, with 2.1% of the GDP going to NATO, and traditionally a high military spending economy, the idea of neutrality seemed unfathomable.
With Brexit, many argued that Britain needed to up their contributions to NATO and play an even bigger role.
As Britain pays in $630,0000 less than the US, it would be some leap to try and compete. Post-Covid-19, would we want to?
As a comparison, spending on education is 4.2% and health about 9.6%, but it is how the money is spent, not always how much.
In a climate of uncertainty, defence spending often backed up with fear politics is untenable. Everyone’s favourite neutral non-NATO, non-EU country Switzerland coming in at third on the happiness index consistently tops polls for standard of living and shows how co-operation within a global economy is not dependent on being members of any specific military or trade organisations.
Before Covid-19 climate change, homelessness, nationalisation, poverty and universal basic income were hot topics. Increased military spending, not so much. A younger generation has far less appetite for war and looking at neutrality from a purely happiness economics point of view that makes sense. We now have the environment to tackle so many of the big issues.
Implementing a transparent global structure for the prevention, handling and curing of outbreaks of infectious diseases is obvious. We have the technology and capability as never before. While gathering and sharing of data for consumerism or surveillance appals many, to do so for the matter of public health is essential. Only time will tell the full impact that Covid-19 has had on our lives and economy, but with no one escaping the consequences, the tipping point has tipped.
So that secret formula to happiness? There isn’t one, but a common purpose and shared vision for a well and united world based on compassionate and ethical economics seems like a good starting point.
Covid-19 has forced us to zoom out from the everyday fracas of life and reflect on what we really value in society. What may well happen is a shift away from material values, instead, moving towards a social contract based upon strong bonds, purpose and community.
Everyone asked how we can reset capitalism. The answer is, we’ve already begun.