Is Gross National Happiness the New GDP?

(World Government Summit, Dubai) – One of the key themes running through this conference is that happiness is not simply a matter of personal contentment, but should be treated as a public good. But that raises a two key questions: how can governments measure happiness and subsequently design policies that promote it?

These are questions that are currently on the fringes of public policy discourse in many countries economies, but not all. Last year the United Arab Emirates created a Ministry of Happiness and the government of Bhutan created an index to measure citizen well being. Still, these concepts are relatively new.

With me to discuss the intersection of happiness and public policy is economist Andrew Oswald who pioneered this line of study. We discuss how one actually measures and quantifies happiness in a way that’s relevant to public policy and also some of the political implications of a happy verses a discontented population. This is cutting edge stuff, and intellectually very interesting.

If you have 20 minutes and want to learn how happiness can be quantified and guide public policy — including as a possible anti-dote to populism — have a listen.

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In Myanmar, Crimes Against Humanity Committed Against the Rohingya Community are Ongoing and Unrelenting

Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State, Burma. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Crimes against humanity are ongoing in Burma and they are being committed by the state against the Rohingya people.

This is a minority community in Burma that has historically faced intense discrimination, but there was some degree of hope that as the country transitioned to a democracy the situation of this community would improve. Alas, we are now nearly a year into the leadership of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and the plight of this minority community is as dire as ever.

A number of recent reports have indicated an uptick in violence against the Rohingya — including what appears to be the systematic use of rape and sexual violence. One of those reports was published by Human Rights Watch on February 6. On the line to discuss the report and the broader situation of the Rohingya in both Burma and across the border in Bangladesh is Brad Adams, the Asia director of human rights watch.

This is a fairly under covered story, but one in which I’ve tried to highlight on this podcast from time to time. It has certainly been drowned out by the unrelenting pace of news reports about the new Trump administration, but worth highlighting. If you have twenty minutes and want to understand why discrimination and violence committed against this minority population in Myanmar is of international concern, have a listen.

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How the Middle East is Reacting to Trump’s Travel Ban

By now, you are well aware of President Trump’s sweeping ban on migrants from seven Muslim majority countries; the indefinite suspension of refugees from Syria and the suspension of all refugee resettlement into the United States for at least four months. The executive order is, of course, the subject of intense debate and discussion here in the United States, but I wanted to get a sense of how this executive order is playing out in the region so I called up one of my favorite scholars and public intellectuals who studies the politics of the Middle East, Marc Lynch.

Marc is a political science professor at George Washington University. He describes how different countries are reacting to the executive order and the implications it has for both domestic politics in the Middle East and those countries’ foreign policies. This is a useful conversation that puts into context the foreign policy and international relations implications of this executive order.

If you have 20 minutes and want to understand what this policy means for Middle East, have a listen.

Episode 137: Princeton Lyman

Princeton Lyman was a long serving US Diplomat who has become a leading expert on African politics and policy. He most recently served as President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan from 2011 to 2013; but before that had an extensive career in the foreign service that included stints as US Ambassador to Nigeria and to South Africa during the negotiations that lead to the end of Apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela. And we do have an extensive conversation about his participation in those historic negotiations.

We spoke the day that news broke that Donald Trump was readying an executive order that would severely curtail refugee resettlement to the US, including from a number of Muslim majority countries. Princeton served as the top US official for refugee issues during the George H.W. Bush administration so we kick off discussing how those potential restrictions fit into the history of US refugee resettlement policy.

We then pivot to a longer conversation about his life and career, including his rather unique first name. It’s a good story — a classic one, actually.

Trump Just Re-Instated the “Global Gag Rule.” Here’s what that means.

On his third day on office President Trump signed a memorandum re-instating what is known as the “Global Gag Rule” or sometimes alternatively as the “Mexico City Policy.” This is a policy that Republican Presidents enact and Democratic presidents lift when they come to office. Simply put the rule places restrictions on NGOs that receive US government assistance about what they can say about abortion.

As you can imagine, this policy is very much caught up in domestic US politics about abortion, but when Donald Trump signed the order re-instating the rule, his version of it went much, much farther than the George W. Bush administration or any republican administration since the Regan era.

On the line with me to discuss the Global Gag Rule, it’s history and impact on women’s lives is Seema Jalan, the Executive Director of the Universal Access Project and Policy, Women and Population, at the United Nations Foundation. She does an excellent job of explaining the policy why the Donald Trump version of it is a big departure from previous republican administrations and in fact may affect every aspect of US global health assistance around the world.

What’s Next for Israel and Palestine?

Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyau and Palestinien President Abas at the White House Washington 01/09/2010
Photo Moshe Milner GPO

The Two State Solution–the idea that a sovereign, secure and independent Palestine can co-exist with a sovereign secure and independent jewish state of Israel is arguably as far from being realized now than at anytime in the past twenty five years. With the election of Donald Trump, the unrelenting expansion of Israeli settlements and political incertitude in Palestine it appears we soon may be signing the requiem for the two state solution.

But what comes next? Are we living in the post-Two State Solution era? What does this mean for Palestinian rights? For Israeli security? For Israeli and Palestinian foreign policy? I put these questions and more to Michael Omer-Man, the editor in chief of the excellent 972 magazine.

If you have 20 minutes and want to learn what the future holds for Israel and Palestine, have a listen.

Turkey in Crisis

Turkey is in crisis. A number of terrorist attacks in recent weeks has rattled Turkish society, there is a persistent and ongoing crackdown on civil society, and President Erdogan is engineering constitutional changes to further consolidate power.
On the line with me to discuss recent events in Turkey and offer some deeper context into the political situation and the future of US-Turkey relations is Elmira Bayrasli. She is an author and the co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted which seeks to amplify the voices of women in foreign policy debates and she was also my guest in Episode 81.  I learned a great deal from this conversation and suspect you will as well.

Announcement: On Thursday January 19th at 7pm I will be hosting a live taping of the podcast at the University of Chicago with former UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. If you are in Chicago and want to attend in person please send me an email via the contact page on This is a ticketed event and the organizers have reserved tickets for my most loyal listeners so if you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the registration info.