If GDP is Not Working, Let’s Try GHP (Gross Happiness Product)

Whenever I tell people what I do for a living, I get funny responses. I work for a non-governmental organisation whose vision is to eradicate poverty and injustice in Ghana, so that every Ghanaian can live with some dignity.

How are you ever going to accomplish such a humongous task, I have often been asked? I have also been told flatly to my face that our vision will be possible after the second coming of Christ. With so many Ghanaians living miserably under dire economic circumstances, how are we going to kick poverty away so that the good people of this country can live happily?

Like the people of Botan, a small country close to Nepal, I like to think of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in terms of how happy the people of a country are, and not necessarily by the numbers the economists cough out. Presently, Ghana’s nominal GDP

in the 2013 fiscal year was $50billion, and $103billion going by the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity). The nominal GDP per capita was $2,500 and $5,150 for the PPP. While inflation stood at 14.5% as at March 2014, the GDP growth rate was 8.5% in 2013.

These figures make sense to the economists and those who love to play with numbers, but for the average salaried worker or unemployed graduate roaming the streets of Accra, whoever produced the GDP figures had better spent the time preaching a sermon in a pulpit to atone for our sins. I want my monthly take home salary to take me home without borrowing to pay my children’s school fees. I want to be able to enter a supermarket and buy basic items to stock my fridge and leave the rest in the store room to last another week. I want to be able to fill my car with patrol or diesel without having to skip lunch because I had to fuel my car. I want to buy food at my usual eatery without dreading cholera or another ailment. And yes, I want regular electricity.

Somebody told me Ghanaians are the second most unhappy people in the world, and I am tempted to go along with that kind of prognosis. Consider the routine of the average Ghanaian on a typical Monday morning. If you live very far from the business and commercial centres in Accra, you would need to wake up at 4.00am to travel the long distance. If you enjoy your sleep for five more minutes, you would be late for work because the snail-paced traffic would keep you waiting for your turn to move an inch closer to the major turning point. Toddlers are not spared the ordeal; they run the same routine as their parents, often skipping breakfast or eating quite late.

To avoid the daily traffic trauma, it has become strategic for hardworking property-owing Ghanaians to abandon their houses in the suburbs of big cities and rent apartments closer to their places of work. They pay big amounts in rent to landlords while their mansions are enjoyed by caretakers and distant relatives who never contributed anything to the building of the property. What is the price of man’s labour?

This is the way out for those who can afford the luxury. For many average workers who may have pumped their life savings into the only property they own, they would have to bear with the fret and pain of the daily commute from their houses in the hinterlands to their workplaces. For the pride of owning their own house, this is the price these proud owners have to fork out for refusing to pay rent to a greedy landlord in the city.

Yet we thought the joy of owning your own house was joy forever. The hardworking man is not happy for how hard he works. At least he holds a job, even if it doesn’t pay well, and may own a car. Any kind of car is good enough at this point for the purpose of getting you there and back safely. Well, it’s hardly ever safe driving in Accra or Kumasi. With horns tooting at the highest decibels amidst insults from drivers and drivers’ mates, as angry pedestrians decide when to allow traffic to flow, driving is a deadly adventure in any metropolitan city in Ghana. The traffic indication lights had shown right, but he suddenly turned left. The car behind had zoomed straight into the other one coming from the opposite direction. It is always the fault of the other person who never learnt how to drive properly or has no license.

The other driver would have a good case if he had insurance, but his road worthy certificate expired three months ago. Thankfully, the police are on the scene, asking questions and gathering the necessary evidence. The police demands cooperation from the two parties to prosecute the case, but whoever is quick enough to show better cooperation in the coded language intelligible to the fast thinker, is sure to have a better case. You will be happy you did because the evidence wouldn’t matter.

You may head to the courts if you have the luxury of time to wait in the long queues for a hearing. Would the insurance company pay anything for the damage if you had purchased a policy? You would realise you share the same fate as those who do not pay any premium for insurance because the insurance companies are very frustrating. You may not be able to redeem anything; it takes forever to process one case. You would wish you had joined the fast thinkers to settle for a quick solution.

The last place you expect to find any happiness these days is the church. After paying so much at the funeral on Saturday, you expect some relief in the house of God on Sunday. Well, that is where you are virtually forced to bring out any money left in your wallet or purse if you want to live a happy life. With no money left, you are not useful for the GDP computation. Your best bet is to fight for your portion of the GHP with a generally unhappy mass in a poor republic.

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