Happiness, food, and income: the three most pressing topics of the World Government Summit

A basic income for all, food wastage and ensuring national happiness were some of the most insistent issues to come up at this year’s summit in Dubai

Are we moving towards a Universal Basic Income?

Replacing numerous welfare programmes with one universal basic income (UBI) that applys to every citizen of a country, and upon which a person can build with their own additional forms of income, was a much-deliberated theory during the summit. Elon Musk thought it would soon be needed in a world “that will face mass unemployment due to automation”, but admitted that the model had a few existential holes. 

"If there's no need for your labour, what's your meaning?" he asked. "Do you feel useless? That's a much harder problem to deal with." The idea of a universal income has steadily gained credence in hand with the increase of automation, a phenomenon that has made economists and corporates alike question the relevance of human labour in the future.

“If you’re given a UBI, you have two options,” asserted Cade Metz, an AI journalist at Wired Magazine during a panel discussion. “You can and play video games, or you can feed the economy. In one sense it gives you the time you might need to plan your next move… in another respect, it gives you the time to do nothing. Many economists suggest that it would slow down the economy.”

GDP is a poor way of assessing the health of our economies

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Waste not, want not

The Prime Minister of Bhutan, oft-known as the ‘happiest place in the world’, gave a stark message on the world’s food waste, stating that one third of our global food supply, or US$2.6 trillion of food a year, is routinely wasted.

"It’s not only agriculture… we need to change the whole food system… we need to change the way we produce to the way we eat”, added José Graziano da Silva, the Brazilian Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

He emphasised the role that smallholder farmers in the developing world had to play and the support they must receive from developed countries to withstand an increasingly unstable climate.
Noting the need for fresh ideas such as agroforestry techniques and green manuring, da Silva acknowledged the challenges, from a lack of access to credit and markets to insecurity about land tenure.

Other innovative new ideas were presented at the conference, one of which was HyperGive – a start-up that allows communities to crowdfund secure digital food wallets for homeless and hungry people in their community.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Professor Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, was typically on-message as he declared: “What is the most you can hope for in your life? In your nation? In the planet? What you believe about your life as a youth, you will carry for the rest of your life… The people who never give up are the people who are optimistic, positive and have hope for the future.”

The statement was pertinent following an announcement by His Highness Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, of seven new initiatives as part of The National Arab Youth Strategy. These ranged from the establishment of ‘youth circles’ across 22 countries in the Arab world, to the production of a report that will shed light on their aspirations.

If there's no need for your labour, what's your meaning? Do you feel useless?

Elon Musk, Founder, Tesla Motors

National Geographic Fellow, Dan Buettner, gave his appealing nine-ingredient recipe for a long and healthy life: natural movement; a positive outlook; meditation; purpose; wise eating; putting our loved ones first; belonging to a religion and building social connections.

He pinpointed specific geographic locations; namely Sardinia and Okinawa, as two happiness ‘zones’ that also have been found to hold the longest-living population of men and women, respectively. 

From Seligman to Professor Meike Bartels, who presented her research findings of a ‘happiness gene’, all were in agreement of the progressive approach that Dubai’s government has taken in search of the happiness of its citizens. “GDP is a poor way of assessing the health of our economies,” concluded Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

“We urgently need to find a new measure.”