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Blog by Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir, WEAll Ambassador and Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland

June 2, 2020

A few years ago a  guy called me up in Iceland and asked: “Why do the leftists own the environment?“  My answer was: “They do not but they have taken environmental issues to the forefront of their politics.  All parties should do that.“ He went on to found the Right Green Party which never took foothold in Icelandic politics.  But it was a step in the right direction.   Healthy environment and sustainability is tantamount for everyone’s wellbeing.

I was party to a similar discussion in an international WhatsApp group recently:  “Why is it that left-wing governments are promoting the wellbeing agenda?  In doing so it will be rejected by those to the right in politics.“

My response was: “In Iceland there is a broad political base behind the new wellbeing policy which has a focus on prosperity and quality of life and is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development goals.“

Our Prime Minister is from the Left Green Movement, but her coalition government encompasses the whole political spectrum – with the Independence Party (conservative right wing) led by Bjarni Benediktsson who is Minister of Finance and and Economic Affairs, and  the Progressive Party led by Sigurður Ingi Jóhannesson and is Minister of Transport and Local Government.

This broad based coalition government agreed the Wellbeing policy agenda in April 2020.  It has 39 wellbeing indicators that are to be collected and followed by Statistics Iceland.  This is very important when considering what may happen in the next election – when the Left Greens may no longer lead the government.  Then the wellbeing agenda is already engrained in policy with civil servants and public institutional support.

What about the other countries in the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership?

In Scotland, the wellbeing economy agenda is being supported and followed by the National Performance Framework (NPF) which was presented to the Scottish Parliament by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon is from the Scottish National Party (SNP) – which is considered to be a centre-left party and wants Scotland to become independent and and have closer ties with Europe and the EU.

Importantly, the NPF was passed unanimously with support from all five political parties in the Scottish Parliament.  Again, with this broad base of support in parliament the wellbeing economy agenda has a chance to survive if the next elections do not return the SNP as the leading party.

In New Zealand, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set the first wellbeing budget world-wide in May 2019 with a central question – how well are our people? The focus is on five priority areas where evidence indicates greatest opportunities to improve the lives of New Zealanders.  The PM´s political party is Labour (left).  Labour is in a coalition government with the New Zealand First Party (right wing) and the Green Party (left wing).  This again, is a broad-based political coalition, giving strength to the wellbeing agenda.

Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand are all members of WEGo – the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership – which is an offspring of WEAll.  A new member has just joined WEGo – Wales.  The First Minister of Wales is Mark Drakeford and he leads the Labour (left wing) government in Wales.  Wales has had the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act since 2015 that has seven wellbeing goals.  Therefore the wellbeing agenda is firmly in Welsh policy – and has been set in law for five years.

The Wellbeing Economy agenda is therefore neither left wing nor right wing.  It is for us all, so that all people and our planet can prosper.  Now that governments across the globe are finding their feet to lead their nations out of the COVOD-19 health and economic crisis – let us remember that pandemics hit us all, wherever we stand in politics. We also know that we cannot go back to business as usual.

In the worlds of professor Frank Snowden, a historian:  “By creating the myth that we could grow our economy exponentially and infinitely, by almost 8 billion people living on earth, excessive travel, environmental pollution, by pushing back nature more and more, we created almost ideal conditions for the coronavirus to emerge, spread and hit us especially hard.“

Let us join hands across political spectrums and make the Wellbeing Economy the new economy for the 21st century.  Would you like to learn more? Then see the WEAll ten principles of Building Back Better.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir

March 25, 2020

This week a friend and colleague sent this written dialogue to me: 

World: “There´s no way we can shut everything down in order to lower emissions, slow climate change and protect the environment.“

Mother Nature: “Here´s a virus. Practice.“

 

For decades, nations have taken up and practiced a globalised, neoliberal, market-driven economic system with focus on exponential economic growth through natural resource extraction, production with energy use and consumption.

Global natural systems are similarly in exponential decline and the climate is warming exponentially. Despite the 2015 UN Climate Agreement, global emissions were still rising exponentially in 2019.  Few people appear to have listened to physics professor Al Bartlett who often stated that „the biggest imperfection of mankind is that it does not understand the consequences of exponential growth.“  Interestingly, the late economist Kenneth Bolding stated: “anyone who thinks that endless growth in a limited world is possible, is either a madman or an economist.“  For the past decade I have asked university student groups and the public whether they can tell me the doubling time if they know the percent rate of increase, and in my memory only one engineering student knew the answer.

Enter the Covid-19 virus. A global pandemic is declared and in only a few weeks the world has ground to a halt, literally.  Varied civil protection measures for emergency management have been taken across the world, including closing borders.  Testing, isolating, quarantining, treating is the message from WHO. Some nations stepped in with social restrictions early, others later.  It appears that the aim of “flattening the curve“ of peak diagnosis per day so that the health care system will not be overwhelmed, appears to be working in some countries.

Meanwhile, in parallel, the economy has slowed down dramatically across the world.  World GDP growth is unlikely for 2020 and at the same time total levels of pollution and emissions are likely to decrease.

Like all of us, I am deeply saddened by the world health pandemic and feel for those who have already and will lose their loved ones. Since the beginning of this crisis I have, however, observed several positive outcomes for science, the environment and the economy – which we can all benefit from in the future:

  1. More and more people now understand the terms „exponential growth“ and „doubling times“. National government representatives report daily increase in diagnosed Covid-19 cases and how many days it will take the cases to double.  This understanding can in due time be used by address issues relating to both the environment and the economy.
  2. The importance of trust in scientific knowledge has increased. Even populist politicians are now listening to scientists. Dismissal of scientific evidence is thus out, science is in. Even my 8 year old nephew has come up with a Covid-19 virus treatment proposal, which he discussed with my son today who is a medical doctor and research scientist. It is likely that many children will aim to be scientists in the future, filling the current and imminent gaps of lack of scientists and engineers.
  3. Wellbeing of people is the top priority of many government and industry responses. Hi-tech firms from race-car producers to vacuum cleaner manufacturers are being asked to step in to develop and produce in record time ventilators for the overwhelmed health care authorities. Governments are also stepping in to ask companies to produce soaps and other sanitary products and pharmaceutical companies are working with government scientists to develop corona virus vaccines.
  4. Since I am in Iceland I would like to outline the government of Iceland‘s economic rescue package which was introduced last weekend. Before I do that I would like to emphasise that my government is a partner in WEGo (Wellbeing Economies Governments) in partnership with Scotland and New Zealand – all three nations lead by women.

The Icelandic stimulus package is in 10 parts and is a total of 230 billion Icelandic krona, 7.8% of national income. The focus is on Prevention – three actions to prevent job losses and business bankruptcies; Protection – three actions to support individuals and and families due to difficult circumstances; Economic push back – four actions to increase economic activity, goods exchange and investment.  These are further outlined below – and where appropriate are linked with the newly established wellbeing indicators (WBI) that are being implemented in Iceland. These are 39 indicators, 17 related to society, 7 related to the environment and 15 related to the economy.

Prevention:

1) Part time pathway – unemployment benefits for those who have reduced employment percentage.  This supports economic WBIs on employment rates, unemployment and low income rates

2) Bridging loans to businesses – support for businesses that have operational difficulties to take extra loans as well as reduction in banking taxes. This can be related to economic WBI on debt of business

3) Deadline for business tax payments delayed – delay in tax due date, as well as insurance due date, and delay in due date for prepayment of business income tax. This relates to economic WBI on government debt.

Protection:

4) Salary during quarantine – employers are compensated for the salaries of people who are in quarantine and cannot work remotely from home. This relates to economic WBIs on buying power and individual debt

5) Increase in child support payments – single extra child support payments to families of every child under 18 because of changed circumstances. This relates to economic WBI on lack of social of economic quality

6) Withdrawal of private pension savings – allowance to withdraw private pension savings for unrestricted use. This relates to economic WBI of purchasing power.

Economic push back:

7) Strengthening tourism – internal injection for tourism (electronic vouchers for every citizen to travel in Iceland), abolition of overnight hotel taxes, and international promotion of Iceland as a tourism destination as soon as the crisis is over. This relates to national income which is one of the economic WBIs.

8) Extension of „everyone works“, refund of value added tax for home improvement and that of NGO facilities. This relates to the WBI of percentage in employment and unemployment.

9) Easier import/export – cancellation of import tax and delay in deadlines for paying customs fees. This relates to economic WBI of purchasing power.

10) Investment efforts – increase jobs in building and maintaining infrastructure, support business innovation, and accelerating planned investment for the future. This relates to economic WBI of percent employed and unemployment.

This quick analysis of the economic stimulus package of the Icelandic government can be directly related to 8 out of 15 economic WBIs.  None of the social or environmental WBIs can be directly related to the package. For the environment WBI a focus on accelerating land reclamation and tree planting and increasing nature protection would both create jobs and improve wellbeing for people and nature.  A focus on supporting remote education and would affect social WBI pertaining to education level and continuing education.

The Icelandic government has already started to think about the long term even as it deals with this short term crisis, thanks to its wellbeing indicator framework: but there‘s much more work ahead. It is my hope that many of the lessons we learn during this Covid-19 pandemic will bring us closer together and that we can use lessons learned to both protect the environment and build economies with focus on wellbeing for people and nature.

Dr. Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir is Professor of Sustainability Science, Faculty of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland. She is also a WEAll Ambassador and a member of the WEAll Global Council.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The BBC has done an in-depth report on Iceland’s ambitions to build a wellbeing economy as part of the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative (alongside Scotland and New Zealand).

Watch the report here to learn some lessons from Iceland on how we can move forward:

Photo by Matt Hardy from Pexels

 

By Kristín Vala  Ragnarsdóttir

6 December, 2019

Vala is a WEAll Ambassador, member of the WEAll Global Council and leader of WEAll Iceland. She is Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland.

 

 

During my summer vacation in 2018 in the Norwegian mountains I read the Nordic Secret by Lene Rachel Andersen from Denmark and Tomas Björkman from Sweden.  The subject of the book was an eye opener for me.  Despite being from a Nordic country (Iceland) I was not aware of the history and social development in the Nordic countries during the 19th century.

Andersen and Björkman demonstrate in the Nordic Secret that when enlightenment came to Copenhagen around 1850 (a century after enlightenment in central Europe) salons were held (mostly by women) and new ideas from Central Europe were discussed.

Unlike Central Europe where the ideas were discussed largely by the ‘intelligentsia’, in Denmark salons were held with a wide participation. Then „folk“ high schools were set up for the children of Danish farmers.  First only young men came to the schools, usually set up by men with their wives – where everyone lived together and discussed new ideas together.  Later young women were also welcomed.  In the „folk“ high schools they discussed new ideas pertaining to philosophy, farming, craft etc.  Everyone lived together, cooked and cleaned, did chores on the land.  No exams were held.

The young people stayed for 3-6 months and then went home to participate and later take over their parents farms – with new ideas in mind.  They were no longer only proud of being farmer children, they were proud of being Danish. This was the foundation of the farming industry in Denmark and the Scandinavian design which is to this day notable.  Later „folk“ high schools were opened up in Norway and Sweden and to a lesser extent in Finland.  By the end of the 19th century there were hundreds of „folk“ high schools in the four Nordic countries. Though no such schools were opened up in Iceland, some of the new ideas came to Iceland with men that had studied in Copenhagen. Of interest is that the „folk“ high schools were set up by clergy and the general public in Denmark, teachers in Norway, the intelligentsia in Sweden and women in Finland.

Once the young people were back on their parents’ farms they were instrumental in founding and supporting co-operatives.  The cooperatives were at the centre of each community, and fostered the building up of libraries and discussion groups.

What was different with the Central European enlightenment was that it largely only affected the intelligentsia.  In the Nordic countries it affected the whole population.  The „folk“ high schools were thus the foundation of the Nordic countries as they are today with their admirable and enviable (proclaimed by many) welfare- and social democratic societies with social justice, universal health care and education at the core.

What is suggested by Andersen and Björkman at the end of the Nordic Secret is that we need to continue with the ideology of the 19th century – where the Bildung of the Nordic population took place (the German word Bildung means more than education – it also is rooted in culture and aims at widening peoples’ horizons). They proposed that Bildung 1.0 occurred from 1850-1900.  Bildung 2.0 took place in the 20th century – and that we now need Bildung 3.0 – with the aim of raising everyone’s horizons to care for humanity as a whole, the Planet and future generations.

I wholly agree and therefore I started to have salons in my living room in November 2018.  Once or twice a month anyone interested can meet in my living room to discuss new ideas with the aim of raising everyone’s horizons.  We read books together and discuss their content.  So far we have gone in detail over the Nordic Secret, in addition (but in less detail) Spiral Dynamics (by Beck and Cowan) and Integral Meditation (by Ken Wilber).  The two latter books outline the evolutions of thinking (Beck and Coward) and the need for the simultaneous development of thinking and states of consciousness (Wilber).

The next book we will discuss is the latest book by Andri Snær Magnason (About Time and Water), which was published in Iceland in early October – but is currently being translated into more than 20 languages.  It is about the climate crisis – and why we find it so difficult to get our heads around the issues at hand.  I recommend that everyone look for this book when it comes out in their language. Magnason is a master in putting complicated issues into words that everyone can understand.

 

Wellbeing economy ideas are making a splash around the world. Global and national media outlets are giving them more and more attention.

This week, the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership of Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand had positive coverage from Australia to the US.

And our own Katherine Trebeck went down a storm as a panellist on BBC Debate Night in the UK.

Check out all of the coverage from the past week here:

Image: SBS World News

By Kristín Vala  Ragnarsdóttir

November 21, 2019

Vala is a WEAll Ambassador, member of the WEAll Global Council and leader of WEAll Iceland. She is Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland.

I often tell people about my epiphany that I had when I talked to the late Richard St George in Bristol (UK) in the year 2000.  He was then the Director of the Schumacher Society which held „the“ environmental gathering in the UK – every year – under the title: Schumacher Lectures. I was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol (and had never heard about the Schumacher Society despite having lived in the city for more than 10 years).  We discovered during our conversation at my neighbour’s birthday party that we were both working on environmental issues.  I was working at the atomic scale – using Synchotron radiation at the Daresbury Laboratory near Liverpool to decipher the structure and coordination of metals and pollutants in water and on mineral surfaces.  Richard was working on finding ways to make the world sustainable.  He was thinking about the big picture.  I had lost the view of the big picture.

I had a shock once I learned how unsustainable our life on planet Earth was (and still is).  First I did not know what to do.  I spent a summer staring at my computer and did not know how to proceed.  But since being depressed is not my nature, I decided to figure out how an Earth scientist could contribute toward sustainability.  I moved up 15 orders of magnitude and sustainability has been at the centre of my research, teaching and operations ever since.

One of the things I decided I had to do was to minimise my own impact on the world.  I had my old car scrapped and I cycled, walked or used public transportation. When going to Europe I took the train.  I kitted out a loft for myself in an old paint factory with under floor heating, solar water heating, double glazing, sheep wool insulation, linseed oil paint…  I bought local and organic produce, stopped for the most part giving gifts, but instead gave Oxfam „gifts“ for the developing world, ranging from giving access to clean water, sanitation, vegetable gardens, goats etc.  If I bought anything for my extended family it was (and still is) a book on environmental issues.  And for whatever CO2 emissions I was responsible, I offset with supporting tree planting.

At the end of 2008 I moved to Iceland, my country of origin.  It was strange to move straight into the economic collapse in Iceland – where the ethical values I was raised with seemed to have vanished.  First I lived with my parents, then got myself a car and a flat.  Living in the same environmentally friendly way as in the UK was difficult.  Most produce is imported.  Going to conferences and workshop meant flying. Taking the ferry is possible, but takes a long time via Seydisfjördur (East Iceland), the Faroe Islands and Jytland in Denmark.  From there you need to take a train.  Seydisfjördur is 800 km from Reykjavik where I live and work.  Then the same distance back.

So I had to change my way of operating.  From Iceland I have travelled according the following principles since 2009:

  1. Will my presence at the summit/conference/workshop/symposium contribute toward the world becoming more sustainable? and/or
  2. Will l learn something that can help me support the world becoming more sustainable?

For my travel I still offset my emissions.  Not perfect, but better than doing nothing.

Move forward ten years and I recently had another epiphany. It is not enough to only consider sustainability issues, it is also necessary to consider gender balance issues. So from now on my traveling will be bound by a third principle:

  1. Have the organisers of the summit/conference/workshop/symposium provided a gender balanced environment for presentations/panels (and more broad balance of gender identifications, where appropriate)?

This third principle came to me after I attended an international summit recently, where we were either presented with „manels“ (men only panels) or panels with one token woman.  I had gone a long way from Iceland because I had hoped that the summit would focus on the voices of people from the global south, and women.  That was not the case.  All of the presenters were men. Only one African woman was given a voice on a panel.

When it dawned on me what was happening, at first I was furious, then sad, then I had the epiphany to make this third principle at the core of decisions of whether I will travel anywhere.

When I discussed this with two friends today, one suggested that I write a blog (thanks!) and another proposed a fourth principle:

  1. Will the summit/conference/workshop/symposium nourish my soul?

She also suggested this should be principle 1.  I agree (also thanks)!

By Samantha Kagan

Those who follow the development and proliferation of wellbeing economics are likely already aware that earlier this year, New Zealand became the first country to reorient its national budget and decision-making framework to centre on wellbeing expansion, rather than on GDP growth. The shift was momentous, and it was executed with the intent from the Government of improving its service to citizens. Minister of Finance Hon Grant Robertson claimed in his speech introducing the new approach that “The things that New Zealanders valued were not being sufficiently valued by the Government”, and this was leading to outcomes undesired by citizens.[1] However, he relayed confidence that implementing the new wellbeing framework would rectify previous missteps and improve outcomes delivered by government. The new approach was well-intentioned, but little evidence existed to support the notion that citizens are more satisfied with a government that pursues wellbeing expansion over one that focuses on GDP growth. I conducted a study to investigate this assumption, and I found evidence that the Minister, in fact, was correct: in New Zealand, citizens are more likely to regard the government highly when wellbeing expands, rather than when GDP grows.

I came to this conclusion using two complementary methods of analysis. First, I examined correlations between GDP and satisfaction with the government’s performance, then between wellbeing and the same measure. I found a tendency for government satisfaction to move more closely with wellbeing factors than it does with GDP level or GDP growth rate. Next, I distributed surveys to New Zealanders that pitted hypothetical policies against one another and asked participants to indicate which option they would support. One policy would grow GDP, while the other would expand wellbeing, and results showed a preference for the latter.

The findings of my study are encouraging, as they suggest leaders in New Zealand acted rationally by shifting government priorities to focus on wellbeing. The objective for adopting this scheme was to improve satisfaction among citizens, and it appears that the strategy was well-calculated. According to Adam Smith, the value of any government is judged in proportion to the extent that it makes citizens happy.[2] Leaders in New Zealand improved their performance in this sense and have good reason to claim victory.

In other nations where government satisfaction is a concern, leaders would be sensible to consider launching a response like New Zealand’s. In Iceland and Scotland, such action is already underway, as each country’s government has introduced a plan to comprehensively restructure its framework.[3] In Britain, although the proposal is yet to be approved, individual policymakers are pushing for wellbeing to take precedence over GDP in government decision making.[4] Examples set by these countries and findings like those in this study should motivate policymakers to contemplate pivoting toward wellbeing to earn more satisfied citizens.

While improving contentment of citizens is itself a valuable objective, the findings of my study also have important implications for policy options available to legislators. Traditionally, policymakers are bound by the paramount goal of GDP expansion. If an otherwise sensible policy appears to threaten growth, it is usually denounced for precisely that reason. This study suggests when a policy is generally constructive, the fact that it may hurt growth should not lead to its automatic dismissal, and if the policy will enhance wellbeing, then it should be given serious consideration. In response to issues like the climate crisis or worsening mental health conditions, the most effective solutions may not be those most conducive to growth. They may even diminish GDP. This study, however, suggests that the public would prefer policies that sacrifice growth in the name of wellbeing, rather than forego wellbeing to consistently safeguard growth. Therefore, policymakers should feel encouraged to maintain a level of indifference toward GDP while observing wellbeing as the primary measure of their legislative success. A new range of policies will become available to them, and citizens will likely become more satisfied as a result.

Samantha Kagan from LSE with a distinction in Inequalities and Social Science. This blog summarises the findings of her dissertation: “Satisfied citizens: how GDP growth and wellbeing expansion relate to government satisfaction”

[1] Robertson, G. (2019) ‘Budget Speech’. New Zealand Government. Available at: https://www.budget.govt.nz/budget/pdfs/speech/b19-speech.pdf (Accessed: 25 June 2019).

[2] Smith, A. (1976) The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Oxford University Press.

[3] WEGo: Wellbeing Economy Governments (2019). Available at: http://wellbeingeconomygovs.org/ (Accessed: 7 July 2019).

[4] Partington, R. (2019) ‘Wellbeing should replace growth as “main aim of UK spending”’, The Guardian, 24 May. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/24/wellbeing-should-replace-growth-as-main-aim-of-uk-spending (Accessed: 7 August 2019).

The circularity paradox in the European steel industry

What happens when solutions to economic system challenges start to create their own problems?

Researching the European steel industry, Dr Julian Torres discovered that the more integrated supply chains are, the easier it is to track the lifecycle of steel alloys and the elements that go into them. Higher levels of integration make it easier to bring steel back via reverse logistics without losing too much value. The more you do this, the less iron ore you need to mine and melt, and the longer the reserves of high-grade iron ore – which needs less energy to transform into steel – will last. And integrating supply chains does not necessarily mean having the different steps all within the same company.

Recycling, remanufacturing and refurbishing are indisputably important tools for reducing our consumption of natural resources. These activities contribute to what scientists call circularity: making sure we use materials for as long as possible, over and over, so that we exploit nature less and less.

Doing so requires creating what are called “secondary markets”, where used materials are gathered up, reworked and injected back into the economy. While this is an essential part of creating circularity, there can sometimes be unintended and negative consequences. A striking example is the secondary metals market: it has been a success), creating new jobs and business opportunities), but the environmentally friendly goal that it once had is no longer a priority.

In Europe, we recycle more than 70% of used steel on average, and just over 30% of all recycled or remanufactured steel is produced in furnaces that use electricity rather than burning coal. Not bad, but no longer enough when considering the increasing steel demand from developing nations, which are growing rapidly.

 

Read Julian’s recent piece for The Conversation here explaining his findings, and what the steel industry can do to improve.

He has also created this entertaining video to help explain the circularity paradox – a.k.a. the “little monster” Scrappy! Check it out, and be sure to share it.

Dr Julian Torres is a recent graduate of the AdaptEcon II PhD programme. During the Programme’s final retreat in Iceland in August he participated in workshops with the WEAll Amp team. Julian received funding from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme via a Marie Curie Fellowship on Excellent Research (grant agreement 

675153). Julian is a member of the International Society for Industrial Ecology and a Board Member of the Jean Monnet Excellence Center on Sustainable Development.

Photo by Scott Webb from Pexels

In August, WEAll Ambassador Kristin Vala Ragnarsdottir brought together the WEAll Knowledge and Policy cluster with the PhD students close to finishing the pioneering AdaptEcon programme.

Following an intensive weekend of workshops, and training in media and public speaking, all participants had the opportunity to deliver and record a “TEDx-style” talk at the University of Iceland.

Below you can see all of the talks, which cover a range of topics from phosphorous to fish; from new stories to addiction. Each one is relevant to building a wellbeing economy and brings a unique perspective.

In addition to the PhD students, talks were delivered by members of the “WEAll family”: Amp team members Katherine Trebeck and Lisa Hough-Stewart, Ambassadors Bob Costanza and Vala Ragnarsdottir, Knowledge and Policy team members Ida Kubiszewski and Luca Coscieme, and Research Fellow Jennifer Hinton.

You can also visit the AdaptEcon YouTube channel which includes all the talks here.

 

 

The OECD has convening power. It has influencing power. And it has the power of its policy advice. It can prescribe changes that are listened to the same way a patient listens to their doctors advice.

So when the OECD’s regular gatherings on measuring wellbeing and shaping policy show signs of moving away from the cosy ‘GDP and beyond’ mantra and the non-system-challenging focus on treatment, then it is worth taking notice.

There’s a new regime in town.

In Paris over one hundred people spent two days hearing from the governments leading the effort to embed a focus on wellbeing into policy agenda. By the end, people were joking that the audience must have ‘framework fatigue’.

Diverse governments, from the UAE to Iceland, from Scotland to Jersey, from France to New Zealand, from Finland to Paraguay set out their efforts to shape policy-making – and, crucially – budgeting, in accordance with promotion and enabling of wellbeing. Discussion was about taking this seriously, changing planning and spending accordingly: the OECD Secretary-General told the audience that: “if it ain’t in the budget, it ain’t really a priority”.

Tensions between different conceptions of wellbeing were, thank goodness, not swept under the carpet as they often are in such discussions. People recognised that a focus on multidimensional wellbeing and the drivers of wellbeing was not the same as rallying around a single number measuring subjective self-reported wellbeing.

But what is done with any measure matters: Professor Jeff Sachs warned that looking at narrow measures means narrow perspective: “the stock market rising”, he said “but US life expectancy is falling, [the US has a] suicide and opioid epidemic – our country is in crisis, but we don’t know it’s a crisis because we don’t look at the right data; this question is not even asked”.

Speaking of drugs, Sachs (channelling WEAll Ambassador Robert Costanza) likened the prevailing money and growth focus to an addiction: “making money is addictive and we have an addiction”. This was reinforced by Martine Durand, OECD Chief Statistician and Director of the Statistics and Data Directorate who said “GDP was never meant to measure wellbeing; it’s been abused and now we’re addicted to it – need to go to a clinic to stop this addiction”. Fortunately, the doctors on duty are willing to look the patient in the eye and tell them some hard truths.

One of these is grappling with the need for both of the ‘two S.C.s’ as I described them. This first is a focus survival and coping – treating people whose wellbeing is low. This is, of course a humane response. It is also not enough in the face of an inhumane economy that is the root cause of so much anxiety and stress, to both people and to planet.

Hence the need for the second ‘S.C.’: system change that asks why people’s wellbeing is low and what changes in the economic set up need to be undertaken in response? Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff challenged delegates to think beyond celebration of amelioration: “Even the existence of social safety nets tells us people are falling and we need to catch them. But how do we keep them from falling?”

In terms of system change, there was also a frank discussion about the relevance of a growth orientated agenda in the richest countries. Of course ecological economists and others have been questioning this for years, but to have senior members of the policy making establishment state that growth doesn’t matter for quality of life in GDP-rich countries (asserting it is “irrelevant for rich country’s wellbeing”) and to even question why the OECD would maintain a programme under the heading of ‘Inclusive Growth’ seemed to be a new high point for the post-growth conversation.

Finally, an impatience with the disconnect between what the wellbeing community has been measuring and saying for years and slow progress in shifting the economic agenda was apparent. Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, opened the conference by saying the world is “well past the point when a lack of data is an excuse – [now the] need is to rationalise and choose and targets which are the relevant indicators”.

If these two days were a heartening stock-take on the state of the debate on wellbeing measures and policy agendas, their timing was just as useful: Finland is currently President of the EU and has made the ‘economy of wellbeing’ it’s flagship agenda. At times, the Finnish contribution seemed a little out of place, better suited to a gathering 5 years ago in that it emphasised the business case for wellbeing and asserting that if governments boost wellbeing that will boost growth. Fortunately, if the rest of the OECD conference was anything to go by, the thinking has moved on and the question is now “what can growth do for wellbeing?”. Not the other way around.

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

Last week, the Prime Minister‘s Committee on measurements for Well-being in Iceland proposed a framework of 39 indicators that cover social, economic and environmental dimensions of quality of life.

These indicators are intended to complement traditional economic measures, such as GDP, and monitor trends in people’s wellbeing. They are meant to look at the broader picture and inform government policy formulation. The indicators are linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they are based on official statistics and allow for international comparison. Developing such indicators is a step towards ensuring common understanding of what factors make our lives better.

According to a survey commissioned by the committee, the general public in Iceland views health (i.e. good health and access to healthcare) to be the most significant factor in quality of life. This was followed by relationships (i.e. with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues), housing (secure housing, cost of housing, supply of housing) and making a living (income and assets).

Kartín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister, introduced the proposed indicators in the Inclusive Growth and Well-being Symposium in Reykjavík on 16 September. Other speakers at the Symposium were Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Derek Mackay, Finance and Economy Secretary of Scotland, Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD and Dr. Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Professor at the University of Iceland and WEAll Ambassador.

You can watch a recording of the Symposium and see the full report from the committee on the Icelandic Government’s website here.

 

This blog has been reposted from Happy City

Why is it that almost all the radical approaches to delivering a new economic vision are being led by women?

From Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand to Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland, there is a North-to-South shared agenda calling for wellbeing to be put at the heart of government thinking.

Here in the UK, of the five largest national parties, only the two led by women have come out in support of the fast growing ‘wellbeing economy movement’ that is challenging the foundation stones of our economic and social systems. In July this year, Caroline Lucas called on parliament to take seriously the urgent need to move ‘beyond GDP’ in our measures of progress and to better assess and prioritise the wellbeing of people and planet. Yesterday, Jo Swinson used her first party conference as leader to announce that the Liberal Democrats would introduce a Wellbeing Budget to tackle climate change and social inequality.

And this trend goes beyond the headline makers.

Having led a pioneering wellbeing economy organisation, Happy City, for the last 10 years, I have seen this pattern repeated at every level and around the world.  Within global organisations like OECD to national ones like ONS, it is women who are leading on the serious work being undertaken to challenge the central role of GDP as a reliable measure of societal progress.  NGOs and campaigning organisations, such as Wellbeing Economy AlliancePositive MoneyDoughnut Economics and New Economics Foundation, all have powerful female leadership blazing a trail for a new way to do policy and practice.

What began as a personal curiosity about an emerging pattern, is fast becoming a blindingly clear thread running through the wellbeing economy movement.

There is, however, a real risk that policy makers and the media may once again fall into the misogynistic pothole some of our current leaders seems to keep disappearing down.  Whenever ‘wellbeing’ or ‘happiness’ are mentioned it is usually alongside a slight snigger about anyone serious wasting their time thinking about such frivolities. The notion that suggesting a Minister for Happiness, or a Wellbeing Budget might be the action of a ‘big girls’ blouse’ is so far from the truth that our politicians, institutions and media giants need to catch up.

Increasingly, economic heavy-weights and leading environmentalists are pointing to wellbeing economics as the only way to address our current social and environmental crises.

This is no fluffy stuff.  It is one of the most urgent actions of our time, and women leaders need to be supported for their courage in stepping up and saying so.  I for one, am with them every step of the way.

Liz Zeidler

Co Founder and Chief Executive

Happy City

This piece was first published by the IMF on their Finance and Development page

As governments are slowly turning their focus from raw GDP-driven measurements toward well-being criteria when judging economic success, the demand for progressive social justice policies is increasing. This is why many policymakers are examining how Iceland, which enjoys a relatively strong economy, has made gender equality a core part of its domestic and foreign policies.

The campaign for women’s equality in Iceland has demanded government action to liberate women from social structures that have kept them down for centuries. This includes legislative changes for women’s sexual and reproductive freedoms as well as robust equality laws and gender quotas for corporate boards.

But it has also required policies that are, in conventional economic terms, considered extremely expensive. And the price tag still prevents many governments from adopting them. The key topics here are universal childcare and shared parental leave. If applied properly, these policies have the potential to change the makeup—and the rules of the game—of both the public and the private spheres. Why? Because they enable women to participate in the labor market and public decision-making, while making space for men to share domestic responsibilities. Yet these family-friendly policies have not won the global support they deserve and are seen by many as a vast opening to profligate public spending.

Fifty years have elapsed since Robert Kennedy rightly said that GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile. Economics is nonetheless still centered on the measurable, dividing government outlays into two categories: expenses and investment. This dualism classifies money spent on physical infrastructure as an investment and, therefore, worthy of public monies. On the other hand, social infrastructure is branded as expenses or operating costs, preferably the first in line to be cut. Yet these are the structures that sustain us from (before) birth to death and create the conditions that make life worthwhile.

Interestingly, physical infrastructure—roads, tunnels, buildings—is often the platform for men’s employment, while women are much more likely to be employed in services associated with social infrastructure—education, childcare, health care. By focusing on physical infrastructure to the exclusion of social infrastructure, economists and policymakers ignore an obvious truth: we need both in order for our societies to thrive and develop. What is a school building worth without quality education for all? What is a hospital building without the people providing the health care? And what is the value of a road or a tunnel in a society where illiteracy prevents social mobility?

In this narrow view of the world, it is not surprising that universal childcare and parental leave are considered luxuries rather than essential features of a successful economy. In fact, however, they are an integral part of building a society where everyone can flourish. If there is anything that people living in the 21st century—the century of gay liberation and women’s liberation, to name two—should know better than those living in the previous one, it is the benefits of liberating people from predesigned social norms and structures.

There is a striking difference between women’s labor participation in countries where childcare is available and affordable, and in countries where women are forced to choose between family and career. Where the costs of childcare are high, mothers in lower-income groups cannot afford to work. To be sure, a cultural shift could enable families to turn away from the traditional male breadwinner model. But the gender pay gap will continue pushing men into work while keeping women at home. And as long as our societies are constructed in such a way that women need to take long breaks from work to care for their families, this pay gap will remain as persistent as ever.

In recent decades, the Nordic countries have developed shared parental leave schemes that offer a specific “use-it-or-lose-it” portion for both parents (including same-sex couples and adoptive parents). The Icelandic model—funded by government and businesses—offers three months of leave to each parent and an additional three months that can be divided between the parents however they choose. My government will extend this entitlement further. This is part of a broader effort aimed at closing the gap between parental leave and publicly funded, high-quality day care now starting at the age of two, a gap that is now mostly covered by subsidized childminders.

The current model has been implemented in stages since 2000 and has—along with universal childcare—transformed Icelandic society while simultaneously boosting the economy. A shift in mind-set has occurred: families now consider parental duties and care the equal responsibility of both parents. Fathers have formed better relationships with their children, and the old excuse that women cannot be hired or promoted because they will (all!) drop out of the labor market no longer holds water. On a personal note, I would not be both a prime minister and a mother to three wonderful boys if not for my country’s family-friendly policies.

Does this mean that Iceland has cracked the code and that everybody enjoys equal rights and opportunities? Unfortunately, it does not. The gender pay gap still exists, and jobs typically held by women are still undervalued and underpaid in a labor market that remains far too gender-segregated. We have not managed to eradicate violence and harassment, and our children are subjected to gender stereotypes just as children are everywhere in the world. But we have made progress. Women’s labor force participation is around 80 percent, or a bit below men’s 87 percent, and yet it still roughly matches the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average for men. The extensive economic activity of all genders is one of the key ingredients in Iceland’s economy, where the unemployment rate is remarkably low at only 2.9 percent.

The inclusion and liberation of the many, rather than the few, is the right thing to do not only from a social justice perspective but also from an economic perspective. It is one of the many reasons Iceland is now taking part in the group of Wellbeing Economy Governments, working toward sustainability and well-being for all, within the context of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Gender equality is an important part of this agenda, and it does not come about automatically. It requires an ideological vision, political struggle, and action on the part of governments, businesses, and social groups. The liberation of women and minority groups continues to be one of the urgent tasks of today’s politics. We must forge ahead with progressive economic policies that defy common stereotypes about costs and benefits and keep on promoting gender equality as part of a forward-looking social justice agenda. Our generation will be judged by how we succeed on this front.

Photo: Iceland Monitor/ Eggert Jóhannesson

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

I write this as I finally get a coffee after a long but exhilarating morning. Actually, a long but exhilarating few years.

This morning a few of us from the WEAll family were sitting in the house that Adam Smith used to live in.

We were there to see the kick off of the first Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) policy lab: Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand coming together to collaborate on wellbeing economy policies.

WEGo is about governments rolling up their sleeves, linking arms, and walking together down a path that sees national success as being defined by the quality of life of citizens rather than the growth rate of a country’s GDP. As the Chief Economist of the Scottish Government said, WEGo is about driving the wellbeing agenda in economic, social, and environmental policy making.

WEAll has been supporting (and sometimes agitating) for this project for many years (even before WEAll was officially formed).

So, sitting back with a coffee after this morning, after these years, and reflecting on the potential of this little project is a nice moment.

We heard the First Minister of Scotland quote Adam Smith and declare that a nation’s success shouldn’t be measured by its gold or silver: that growth is only of value if it makes people’s lives better – it is not an end in itself.

We heard the Prime Minister of Iceland – Katrin Jakobsdottir – say she is personally committed to collaborating with other governments on this agenda and that Iceland is excited by the WEGo project because it is “time to think differently about growth”.

Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes “this event will be the first of many…[because] there is much to gain from working with other countries”.

The governmental engagement in the project is underscored by the support of the OECD – Carrie Exton from their Statistics Directorate described WEGo as “a fantastic project”.

But beyond this, in the context of global divisions, dangerous populism, alienation, Katrin Jakobsdottir looks at WEGo and sees a “light in the darkness” – backed by Nicola Sturgeon who recognised that “if there is ever a right time for such an initiative, it is now…we should seize this [collaboration] with both hands: [this agenda] is the most important overarching thing in my government, because it affects everything”.

Hard to imagine a stronger endorsement for a project rich with potential. It might even be a game changer – setting a new tone for governmental cooperation, leadership, new norms in definitions of success, and working together to deal with the challenges facing today’s world.

Fuelled by coffee, working with such extraordinary and open minded leaders, WEAll might just achieve this wellbeing economy we so urgently need.

Read First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s full speech here.

 

 

 

By Katherine Trebeck, Wellbeing Economy Alliance

In one of the most artificial surroundings it is possible to imagine – a purpose-built conference zone near Incheon in South Korea – three thousand people gathered to explore the future of wellbeing. This was the 6th wellbeing forum hosted by the OECD’s statistics unit, a team that has been at the forefront of measuring quality of life for over a decade.

Discussions ranged from how data can help in the post-truth era to resilience and social protection. Nobel laureates, royalty, heads of international agencies joined with statisticians, civil servants, and academics to debate and learn from each other about the state of play in measurement and the implications for policy making.

And amongst it all, WEAll was making its presence felt.

Wellbeing Economy Governments

WEAll was able to join the launch of the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative. WEGo is something the WEAll team initiated (pre-dating the official formation of WEAll) and has been supporting for some time. Seeing it ‘go live’ was an important juncture for the wellbeing economy agenda and WEAll’s role in it.

WEGo is a partnership of national and regional governments, led by Scotland and joined by the likes of New Zealand and Iceland. It will promote sharing of expertise and best practice in designing an economy in service of collective. Its participants are civil servants and ministers who recognise that ‘development’ in the 21st century is a matter of delivering human and ecological wellbeing: wellbeing for people and planet.

The stated objectives of WEGo are:

  • COLLABORATE in pursuit of innovative policy approaches to create wellbeing economies – sharing what works and what doesn’t to inform policymaking for change.
  • PROGRESS toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in line with Goal 17, fostering partnership and cooperation to identify approaches to delivering wellbeing.
  • ADDRESS the pressing economic, social and environmental challenges of our time.

The primary mechanism to advance these goals is a Policy Lab through which government officials will share relevant experience and expertise. Agenda items will include: protecting the natural world, addressing child poverty, undertaking wellbeing budgeting, utilising predictive analytics, and shaping government performance frameworks. In 2019 WEGo’s first Policy Lab will take place and an inaugural gathering of Senior Officials and Ministers from member states is planned to discuss progress in creating wellbeing economies.

Gary Gillespie, the Chief Economist for the Scottish Government, whose office is the secretariat for WEGo, described it as ‘bringing the economic lens back in’ to the wellbeing agenda. Bennedikt Arnason of the Icelandic government spoke of WEGo as the ‘ideal platform to contribute, to share and promote policy making for greater wellbeing’. Professor Joseph Stiglitz described WEGo as a ‘fascinating and important initiative of these governments: putting wellbeing into practice’.

Professor Stiglitz also spoke of the importance of persisting – and this has been the story of getting WEGo to where it is now. It has been a bumpy road as political changes altered governmental priorities (and government personnel). But while WEGo is still a small, fledging project, it has potential to shift the conversation about how economies are designed, how they work, and what they deliver. WEAll will be there cheering it on and helping input to its activities.

WEAll on the main stage

The conference also provided the chance to introduce WEAll into conversations about governance and whole-of-government policy frameworks – I moderated a session on the latter and joined a roundtable on the former and also spoke at an event hosted by the University of Melbourne exploring the importance of community participation in development of beyond-GDP indices and how to bring the lessons of these indices into political decision making.

From Incheon into action

The OECD is playing an important role in upping the ante on wellbeing. In part by hosting these (massive!) global conferences every few years where the big names and rock stars of the wellbeing measurement movement join researchers and people working on translating the ideas and evidence into better government decisions. But, also by ensuring that the statistics and measurements are available, that the frameworks for thinking about operationalising the agenda are shared, and by reinforcing the importance of a broad-based understanding of wellbeing that takes account of people’s circumstances (including future generations), not simply how they report they are feeling.

This matters – the OECD is a large and influential agency. Its reports are read by governments, its assessments of respective country’s performance spurs debate, and its policy recommendations are keenly attended to. Many of the speeches and discussions at the conference wouldn’t have been unfamiliar in WEAll members’ calls. And that gives cause to hope that the momentum and drive to build a wellbeing economy is building in many quarters and (dare we hope?) heading into the mainstream.