The King of Bhutan, the BBC reports, has abdicated as part of the process of transitioning the country to a parliamentary democracy. I believe his contribution to the debate about social capital - his concept of Gross National Happiness - deserves far more attention than it has received (Time magazine article is here).
In the U.S. and Europe GDP reports and national income accounts are watched almost obsessively, with significant deviations from trend provoking almost instantaneous policy responses. The same is not always true for important indicators of happiness and well-being, however.
Bhutan's experiments with the implementation of this concept are widely regarded as successful, but I hasten to add that this success came in a society with one religion (Buddhism) and a leadership with absolute power (although this is now changing).
A set of discussion papers from a think tank in Bhutan is here. It is nice, but it is not nearly enough. Scholars in the social sciences need to do more, collaborating across traditional disciplinary boundaries, to develop a richer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this concept.
It won't be easy. In a recent issue The Economist questioned the value of 'fair trade' and characterized the challenges of organic food production as a political problem. The Economist argument wasn't very good economics in the first place (externalities, anyone?), but never mind that. If they're on form, the political scientists will bat the ball back, saying that the political forces in play are heavily mediated by economic questions, and therefore not their problem either.
I have no problem with The Economist generally (they once inaccurately called me an economist, doing my career a world of good). But there's no place for this kind of cop-out anymore. Bhutan has made a brave start - its up to the rest of us to carry it further.