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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.

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 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).

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

Last week’s edition of ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, the podcast about ideas by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd, focused on building wellbeing economies.

Looking at New Zealand’s recent wellbeing budget as well as what might be possible in the UK and elsewhere, the podcast included interviews with: New Zealand Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Annie Quick of the New Economics Foundation (NEF), academic Bronwyn Hayward and former UK Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell. Annie and Bronwyn are both members of WEAll, and all contributors to the podcast give in-depth analyses of what’s needed to build a wellbeing economy. There’s an important discussion too about the need to distinguish between subjective and collective wellbeing, with Annie Quick in particular making a great case for system change and looking at root causes in all their complexity (we agree Annie!)

Listen here now (56 mins): https://play.acast.com/s/reasonstobecheerful/b9dd227d-a3f1-4f3a-b242-d4125bf7ebeb

New Zealand has been making headlines this week after announcing its new Wellbeing Budget.

The government of New Zealand says it is “is committed to putting people’s wellbeing and the environment at the heart of its policies, including reporting against a wider set of wellbeing indicators in future Budgets.”

The official website of the New Zealand Government goes on to state:

“The Budget provides an annual opportunity to review New Zealand’s performance across some high-level indicators, place the Government’s programme within the context of the economic and fiscal outlook, set out the Government’s strategy for the future and draw links to specific actions that have been, or will be, taken.

Budget 2019: The Wellbeing Budget, will broaden the Budget’s focus beyond economic and fiscal policy by using the Treasury’s Living Standards Framework to inform the Government’s investment priorities and funding decisions. The Government will measure and report against a broader set of indicators to show a more rounded measure of success, as a country and as a Government. This will be supported by Budget processes that facilitate evidence-based decisions and deliver the Government’s objectives in a cost-effective way. The Wellbeing Budget represents an important step towards embedding wellbeing in New Zealand’s public policy.”

Find out more about the budget on the website here.

Read The Guardian article about the new budget here.

New Zealand is one of the founding members of the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative, alongside Scotland and Iceland.

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.