The focus here is not solely on economic growth but on economic growth plus happiness, and needs an incremental approach.
Policymakers and thinkers alike give a high priority to economic growth in modern democracies, and they are right in doing so, but does the economic system end with production and consumption, demand and supply and so on or should it also consider the significant impacts it has on society as well? With many modern liberal democracies going through radical changes in the manner in which politics is conducted, the economic system, which is embedded in society, cannot remain aloof to wider social and political changes afoot in liberal democracies.
In liberal democracies with a capitalist economy whose priorities are usually production-intensive processes such as procuring energy, manufacturing and so on and the corresponding consumption, the focus remains one that is based primarily on economic growth rather than social responsibility as well. With governments pursuing populist policies that resemble the economics of demand and supply, social discourse is deprived of discernment and critique necessary to form a more complete understanding in approaches to policy. We cannot keep taking shortcuts that satisfy needs and aspirations in the short term rather that focus on solutions that are more deliberative. For this, we need to shift from an approach that looks only at populism to one that is people-centric. Such a people-centric approach would focus on things such as efficiency, productivity, employment, education, healthcare and so on of a welfare economy. The focus here is not solely on economic growth but on economic growth plus happiness, and needs an incremental approach.
To understand this incremental approach, let us consider the proposed Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Nyay) of the Congress Party: In a country like Sweden, where most people are skilled and educated, social security is not an end all for most people, and people still look to work in order to live a better life eventually. In Nyay, what seems lacking is the basic needs approach that India needs. Nyay lacks a phased approach. Instead of giving cash handouts outright, India could start by setting up bhojanalays where people are given basic nutritious food like eggs and also clean water. Once coverage is good, the next phase can consist of providing shelter and transportation to the needy which can of course be followed by other basic needs such as healthcare, education and clothing that are also infrastructural issues. This means that to satisfy their other needs, the able are still motivated to work. Thereafter, a budget can be worked out over social security in India.
Alongside an incremental approach towards creating greater satisfaction towards the delivery of policy, a focus on encouraging social reform is also necessary, as social reform is an inevitable cause and effect of welfare policy. Social reform in turn also encourages innovation and economic growth and can act to save a society from a crisis. People, in order to look for greater happiness and satisfaction in society, need a society that provides an opportunity to carry out incremental social reform, and a culture that encourages discovery, innovation and freethinking greatly enhances this prospect.
A society can move towards such incremental social reform if the culture is one that is amenable to such. In this regard, public nationalism can be helpful in encouraging national unity on social reform. Public nationalism need not mean just conformity or agreeability to certain ideals, but can also be a creative and dynamic force if it is more amenable to encouraging social reform. For this, it is necessary that public nationalism not be limited to become an ideology or a collection of ideologies, but appear as a community of people, or maybe an aesthetic that does not constrict people from imagining.
All this is not too idealistic, but requires a shift in priorities from one that is centred only on production and consumption to one that also expands economic growth to include people-centric policies and incremental social reform. Such requires greater commitment and vigilance not only from the ruling classes, but also from people involved in the process. A society that encourages social reform will naturally have the productive commitment of its people involved in such incremental social reform. What is required is a policy environment that is also professionally committed to encouraging a people-centric policy environment. Therefore, alongside theorising happiness and social reform, it is also necessary that such receives institutional support. Such is possible if people are trained and specialised towards such specific purposes. There is no shortage of will — but what can usually be found lacking is institutional support.
Populism and using emotive issues in policy do not do justice to issues at hand, and while people might be distracted at one moment they might lapse again into dissatisfaction the next. What is needed is for policy to create a society that fosters people-centric policies that generate happiness rather than simply focus on the productive process. In this it is important that human initiative be recognised and rewarded. We need to look at incremental social reform as also institutional solidarity that supports a society that encourages people-centric policies. Let us not limit our outlook to policy — let there be welfare for all.