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WEAll Scotland’s Wealth of Nations 2.0 event, held in Edinburgh last week, didn’t just energise the packed out room – it generated buzz across Scotland and beyond about wellbeing economy ideas.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered a groundbreaking speech where she declared that Scotland must “redefine what success means as a nation”, and endorsed the approach of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. Along with Iceland and New Zealand, Scotland is leading the pioneering Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative. You can read the full text of her speech here.

Sturgeon’s words, and the messages of the conference, generated extensive media interest. Here’s a roundup of the coverage so far:

Have we missed some coverage? Share links in the comments below!

Photo by brotiN biswaS from Pexels

 

WEAll Scotland hosts its second large scale event – Wealth of Nations 2.0 – in Edinburgh today.

The conference will be addressed by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and attended by experts and practitioners working to transform the economic system from across Scotland.

Ahead of her speech, Nicola Sturgeon has issued a clear statement that “wellbeing is as important as economic growth” and that Scotland must “redefine what success means”. Read about her commitment to building a wellbeing economy in this BBC coverage.

WEAll’s Katherine Trebeck has written in today’s Herald newspaper about the significance of the conference and the urgent need for governments and all of us to take action in order to transform the economic system. She says that “Scotland also has a role to play on the world stage, demonstrating that humanity can determine economics instead of the other way around.”

In The Times, Head of Oxfam Scotland Jamie Livingstone writes about the injustice of unpaid care, and why valuing caregivers should be a litmus test of whether we are succeeding in building a wellbeing economy. Oxfam Scotland is one of the key partners and sponsors of the Wealth of Nations 2.0 event. Earlier this week they launched important new research into the value of unpaid care in Scotland.

Keep up with the Wealth of Nations 2.0 event as it happens by following @WEAllScotland on Twitter. This page will be updated with further media coverage as it emerges.

 

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 Jussi Ahokas

Finland took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union this autumn (from 1 July to 31 December). The timing of Finland’s third EU Presidency has been very interesting. The European Parliament election took place in May and during the autumn the construction of the new European Commission has been under way. The future choices of Europe and the next steps for policies of the European Union have been widely discussed. Hence, more room than usual has been opened for envisioning and reflection – what should be the desirable future path for the whole continent and the union of European nation states?

As the chair of the Council Finland has tried to seize the opportunity by bringing new initiatives to the European policy discussions. Most importantly, Finnish Ministry of Social affairs and Health introduced the Economy of Wellbeing policy approach that emphasises the fact that increasing the wellbeing of people creates positive outcomes for the economy. This in turn allows new investments to increase wellbeing, inclusion and participation. Thus, the Economy of Wellbeing presents the positive cumulative causation, or the virtuous circle, which will lead to the improving people’s capabilities to live good lives.

During the autumn many interesting events under the theme of Economy of Wellbeing have been organized. The high-level conference of Economy of Wellbeing in September in Helsinki brought together politicians, civil servants, researchers and civil society actors from different European countries. Economy of Wellbeing as a new policy approach was enthusiastically welcomed and almost all discussants seemed to be inspired by the concept. Later in October the EU council adopted conclusions on the Economy of Wellbeing which also portrayed the European wide interest on the new policy approach.

The civil society actors had important role in the high-level conference raising also somewhat critical voices on the current situation in Europe and the policy efforts of the EU. For example, the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) and the Social Platform – European NGOs that organized their own events in Helsinki earlier in that week – reminded the participants that the guiding idea and policy goal of Economy of Wellbeing should be people’s wellbeing and that economy is only a tool for making this happen.

From the perspective of SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health the message of EAPN and the Social Platform was of great importance. Indeed, in Finland SOSTE introduced the concept of Wellbeing Economy already in 2012 and slowly it has drawn more general attention in Finnish society. Before the EU presidency SOSTE was in close dialogue with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and it can be argued that the initiative of Economy of Wellbeing in Europe has its roots in civil society. This is a very good example of the power that NGOs and civil society can have in developing new visions and approaches that could change policies in the EU in the long-term.

The critical stance of NGOs – that the wellbeing of the people should always be the primary policy goal – has much importance, because the Economy of Wellbeing approach presented by the Ministry is also concerned over the “wellbeing” of the economy. There is a risk of “business as usual” being legitimised by the argument that besides the wellbeing of the people, we also need economic growth and sustainable public finances to achieve our goals. Hence, in time of an economic crises even austerity measures could be legitimised with Economy of Wellbeing approach.

Another important critique is the lack of – or at least too small – role for ecological and environmental perspectives. It is impossible to deny that at the time of climate crisis (and other ecological crises) the wellbeing of our planet is the most important policy issue and by neglecting it, we are not able to secure the wellbeing of people in our societies.

Therefore, it is very important that civil society actors continue to battle over the concept of Economy of Wellbeing in Europe. In the best scenario the initiative will bring us more policy space to build an actual Wellbeing Economy. An economic and social model that puts the wellbeing of all people and our planet first.

Mr. Jussi Ahokas is Chief Economist for SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health – SOSTE is a member of WEAll

By Lisa Hough-Stewart

Last week WEAll was delighted to partner with Thomson Reuters Foundation to deliver a lunch event on wellbeing economics as part of their flagship Trust Conference in London.

Energy and ideas were flowing as a packed room full of leaders from the worlds of business, development and philanthropy (and beyond) discussed how we can better work together to transform the economic system.

WEAll Executive Chair Stewart Wallis inspired participants with a short introduction, explaining that “he’s been trying to change the world for a long time” and that what he had learned from over 50 years of work was that:

“Where a cause is both just & urgent, and we collaborate across barriers, it’s possible to achieve the seemingly impossible”

After Stewart outlined what the vision of a wellbeing economy looked like, participants round the table shared their dreams for what would change in the next ten years to help bring this about. Some named equality for all; others talked about decision making and monetary flows being based on solutions not problems; and we shared ideas about bringing all voices to the conversation and changing power structures.

It was clear that the vision for the world we want to live in is rich and shared by many – how we get there is less clear. This is where WEAll comes in – and Stewart invited everyone to participate as members or in some other capacity with our work.

The event was a great starting point for new ideas and relationships, and we are excited to build on this strong beginning.

It came as part of the two-day Trust Conference, which showcased innovative examples of pioneering business practices around the world and explored solutions to human rights challenges.

One highlight was a celebration of the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership, with video clips of leaders Nicola Sturgeon of Scotland, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland helping raise awareness of this important project.

I was personally incredibly impressed with two businesses in particular that we heard about: Nik’s Fudo in Geneva makes feminist economics a reality, providing business opportunities to migrant women enabling them to share their cooking skills and amazing food. Annie Cannons in the Bay Area trains and employs survivors of human trafficking in their cutting edge coding and tech company.

Both of these examples give me hope that innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, feminism and kindness can come together to support the type of future businesses that should one day be the norm. This is a wellbeing economy in action.

Wellbeing economics featured prominently in media coverage of the event, with Nicola Sturgeon’s TED talk being quoted:
“The goal of economic policy should be collective wellbeing: how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is.”

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).

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

Ideas can change the world. And misplaced ones can hold back progress. Myths and half truths about economics influence decision making across government and in business, and there are fundamental flaws in how economics is invariably taught.

To build an alternative and underpin the transition to a wellbeing economy, we need a strong and coherent knowledge and evidence base. Much is already known about what policies and ways of doing things need to change to change the world. But the theoretical base is disparate and would-be practitioners lack useful guidelines for implementation. The knowledge is scattered and often inaccessible.

So, what’s WEAll doing?

WEAll – via the Knowledge and Policy cluster – is helping bring together and promote wellbeing economy theory and practice.

We’ve been producing a diverse suite of knowledge products accessible to all sorts of practitioners, policy makers, and interested individuals.

We’ve gathered some of the most exciting and well-regarded thinkers on aspects of a wellbeing economy in a WEAll Research Fellows Network. Their work explores all corners of a wellbeing economy. They will contribute to the various publications WEAll is curating. Their expertise will be drawn on to help practitioners and politicians seeking to create a wellbeing economy.

We’re developing plans for an online interactive library. Interested people will be able to find their way to the most useful material for their interests, needs, and level of awareness.

We’re commissioning synthesis of the current state of the knowledge base in various areas of a wellbeing economy in our series ‘WEAll Ideas: Little Summaries of Big Issues’.

We’ve outlined how the wellbeing economy would deal with and respond to a range of issues, topics and challenges (and how this differs to the response of the current system). This provides an ‘at a glance’ insight into a wellbeing economy (see wellbeingeconomy.org/oldwaynewway).

We’ve published dozens of blogs, authored papers and articles for a range of outlets and even some books. We’ve also given media interviews; recorded many podcasts; and given presentations in many different countries to a range of audiences. You can see these featured in the WEAll news updates.

We’ve been active in policy influencing – speaking at All Party Parliamentary Groups and holding meetings with civil servants and members of parliament.

Leadership built on ideas

And of course WEAll instigated the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership that was the ‘big idea’ at the centre of Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland’s 2019 TED talk. We have ongoing liaison with the civil servants leading this work and are supporting the engagement of additional members.

Without the ideas, energy, guidance, expertise of our members, this work would be slow going. Instead it has momentum and ambitious plans.

With your help, we can build on our strong start and sustain this work to build solid roots for the wellbeing economy movement.

 

Right now, WEAll is running our #WEAllGive fundraising drive so we can keep broadening the movement and developing the knowledge required to drive change.

Donate today to help make it happen.

The newest WEAll place-based hub is developing quickly in Wales, with seasoned campaigner Duncan Fisher taking the lead on pushing for a wellbeing approach to economics.

Wales’ devolved Assembly is already world-leading in its approach to intergenerational justice, having appointed a Future Generations Commissioner and enacting a Future Generations Act in 2015.

Now, Duncan argues in the first of a series of policy-focused articles for the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA), it is time ” for wellbeing economics to be made the lynchpin of economic policy in Wales, replacing the central pursuit of growth.”

Duncan goes on:

“It is quite evident that fundamental system change is absolutely and urgently required and that there is a long way to go to achieve it but very little time. I believe that shifting to wellbeing economics is fundamental to such system change.

The purpose of these four posts is to float ideas and invite reaction and rapid discussion. The global organisation, Wellbeing Economy Alliance, provides an invaluable resource for discussions everywhere in the world. The Alliance has provided great help to me in composing these posts.

At the end of the series, after assessing the feedback to the first three pieces, I will float ideas for what more we could do in Wales to hasten the journey towards system change. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance stands by ready to help, connecting us with the best minds and activists across the world.”

Read Duncan’s full post on the IWA website here – we’ll be sharing his future posts when they’re published, too.

Image: VisitCardiff

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

As world leaders met at the UN this week, a small country was making a big decision about its approach to tackling climate change.

On 25 September, the Scottish Parliament voted to approve an ambitious new Climate Bill. With a target of net-zero emissions by 2045, the Bill stretches Scotland further than the UK as a whole and sets it apart as a world-leader in terms of targets. The 2045 target is legally-binding, meaning any remaining emissions would have to be entirely offset with measures such as increased tree planting and carbon capture and storage technology. In addition the bill sets a target to reduce 75% of greenhouse emissions by 2030 (on 1990 levels)

Úna Bartley, Director of WEAll Scotland said, “These new targets are to be welcomed and celebrated, especially given the role of civil society in driving up ambition in the bill’s final stage. However, setting targets is only the beginning; the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government must now take swift and bold action to drastically reduce emissions and ensure a just transition to a wellbeing economy begins as soon as possible.”

The bill also incorporates the UNFCCC principles, and a statutory duty to regularly report on Scotland’s consumption emissions, In addition, the bill pledges to hold Citizens Assemblies, which is a very exciting step towards more democratic ownership of climate policy and action. WEAll Scotland looks forward to engaging in these Assemblies, sharing ideas for economic transformation and helping connect our network to the Parliamentary process.

Scotland’s approach to climate change is a critical component of its contribution to the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative. Nicola Sturgeon declared in her recent TED talk that in the context of climate emergency, “the argument for the case for a much broader definition of what it means to be successful as a country, as a society, is compelling, and increasingly so.”

Achieving Scotland’s new climate change ambitions in a way that is inclusive and sustainable simply will not be possible without a transformation of our economic system. Young people are taking to the streets (and many of us not-quite-so-young people are joining them) demanding system change: targets are not all that we are asking for. We need policies and incentives to drive a complete redesign of Scotland’s economy. Check out this blog series that WEAll edited for Bella Caledonia with some of the ideas to make that happen.

Next year Glasgow will host COP26, and all eyes will be on Scotland as the world reckons with its progress on climate change five years after the Paris Agreement. The meaningful work for Scotland to live up to its climate leadership ambitions starts now: Scotland is on its way to having a leadership story worth telling at the COP.

Image – Andrew Cowan, Scottish Parliament

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.

 

WEAll Knowledge and Policy Lead Katherine Trebeck features in the latest episode of Policy Forum Pod, created by the Asia and Pacific Policy Society. She discusses the need for a wellbeing economy, her latest book ‘The Economics of Arrival’ (co-authored with Jeremy Williams), and what could be done differently by governments and society as a whole to deliver good lives.

Listen here:

Original link to podcast 

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

This piece was first published on OpenDemocracy

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7 Ideas for the G7

Economic policies to tackle inequality and deliver wellbeing

By Amanda Janoo

 

This week the heads of state of the economies that comprise the Group of 7 (the ‘G7’) gather in France to discuss the critical issues of our time – with the stated focus of fighting inequality.

The group first came together in the 1970s to find a collective solution to the oil crisis that was destabilizing economies worldwide. Since their first meeting, the leaders of the G7 have met annually to confront the economic challenges that bind us.

This G7 gathering could be historic, if they take the bold and swift action required to tackle inequality, as well as the climate emergency, and to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

As we brace ourselves for another financial crisis, inequality between and amongst countries continues to grow exponentially, breeding social and political unrest worldwide.

Within many of the G7 countries, affluence is not breeding happy and healthy societies but lonely and anxious ones. The global balance of power is shifting from nation states to Multinational Corporations threatening the very democratic principles that bind the G7 countries. All while the rapid rate of biodiversity loss and climate change threaten our very existence.

These existential issues cannot be solved by any single country alone. They are a product of a global economic system that desperately needs to be reformed. The G7 countries represent over half of global economic wealth and still have the power to change this system. Tinkering with exchange rates and select tax policies will not cut it.

We need our leaders to be brave at this critical juncture in history when the world is splintering, and to realize there is far more that binds us than divides us.

My new paper, published today by The Wellbeing Economy Alliance, offers 7 Ideas for the G7 in the spirit of hope and a belief that a more just and sustainable economy is not only possible, but a few strategic decisions away:

 

  1. Adopt alternative progress indicators to GDP:

Global obsession with Gross Domestic Product as a progress indicator has resulted in widespread confusion between means and ends. The G7 should abandon the objective of GDP growth and agree to focus on achieving real economic objectives that matter most to citizens.

  1. Reform international economic organizations to promote wellbeing economies:

Perhaps no one has suffered more deeply from our dubious notion of progress than the global south. The G7 should work to reform the international economic organizations to encourage locally-oriented, context-appropriate economic development practices. We must abandon the idea that development or progress is a one-way street and create space for experimentation to identify systems of production and provision that can bring wellbeing to all.

  1. Binding code of conduct for multinational corporations (MNCs):

For too long, the global economy has allowed multinational corporations to accumulate unprecedented wealth and power, leading to a “race to the bottom” amongst countries to adopt the lowest environmental, labour and tax standards to attract or appease these global giants. A binding code of conduct would create greater space for upholding democratic governance of economies, and ensure more ethical production practices worldwide.

  1. Global Competition Regulation:

Every sector in the global economy is dominated a handful of corporations. MNC controlled supply chains now account for over 80% of global trade each year. This level of economic conglomeration is economically unsustainable and ethically unacceptable. We need global competition regulation to minimize risk and ensure more equitable and balanced business development worldwide.

5. Create citizens wealth funds:

The rise of new technologies has created new wealth, much of it reliant on public funding for education and research. The G7 should recognize that technological development must benefit society as a whole and not just the select few – which requires a new tax and redistribution system. Through a windfall tax on technological breakthroughs G7 countries could develop Citizen Wealth Funds at the country level to fund universal basic income, public services and infrastructure development.

6. Ban and redistribute all off-shore bank account funds:

Due to lack of global economic coordination and oversight, it is now estimated that at least 10% of the world’s GDP is held in offshore bank accounts. We need an official ban of all off-shore banking, with the G7 using their collective intelligence to extract all money currently held within these institutions and put it directly into a “global citizens wealth fund” to combat climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

  1. Financial Transaction Tax (Tobin Tax or ‘Robin Hood’ tax):

Global financial markets now move at lightning speed, generating immense wealth and at the same time universal vulnerabilities. France and Germany have been pushing for a global financial transaction tax at the G7 but have not succeeded in gaining substantial traction. This policy agenda would tax international financial transactions, particularly speculative currency exchange transactions, reducing financial volatility and raising billions to combat the global crises of our time.

 

These bold ideas are fully feasible given the wealth and power of the G7 countries. During World War II, the Army Corp of Engineer’s had a motto: “the difficult we do immediately, the impossible will take a little while.”

There are moments in history when paradigms shift. We are at this moment and if the G7 promotes these policies, we would be well on our way to achieving the “impossible”:  a global economic system that ensures we all live long and healthy lives in harmony with our natural environment.

Download the full briefing paper here

Image: Lafargue Raphael/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

WEAll members and partners have collaborated to publish a new academic paper in the journal ‘Sustainability’ on the wellbeing economy.

Led by Luca Coscieme of Trinity College Dublin, the paper was also contributed to by: Paul Sutton ,Lars F. Mortensen ,Ida Kubiszewski ,Robert Costanza ,Katherine Trebeck ,Federico M. Pulselli ,Biagio F. Giannetti  and Lorenzo Fioramonti.

The authors explain the article as follows:

Increasingly, empirical evidence refutes many of the theoretical pillars of mainstream economics. These theories have persisted despite the fact that they support unsustainable and undesirable environmental, social, and economic outcomes. Continuing to embrace them puts at risk the possibility of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and overcoming other global challenges. We discuss a selection of paradoxes and delusions surrounding mainstream economic theories related to: (1) efficiency and resource use, (2) wealth and wellbeing, (3) economic growth, and (4) the distribution of wealth within and between rich and poor nations. We describe a wellbeing economy as an alternative for guiding policy development.

In 2018, a network of Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo), (supported by, but distinct from, the larger Wellbeing Economy Alliance—WEAll) promoting new forms of governance that diverge from the ones on which the G7 and G20 are based, has been launched and is now a living project. Members of WEGo aim at advancing the three key principles of a wellbeing economy: Live within planetary ecological boundaries, ensure equitable distribution of wealth and opportunity, and efficiently allocate resources (including environmental and social public goods), bringing wellbeing to the heart of policymaking, and in particular economic policymaking. This network has potential to fundamentally re-shape current global leadership still anchored to old economic paradigms that give primacy to economic growth over environmental and social wealth and wellbeing.

You can read the article in full here.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon delivered a TED Talk on why governments should prioritise wellbeing in their approaches to economics.

Saying that she is determined Scotland will be a country that helps influence the world to “put wellbeing at the heart of everything we do”, Sturgeon spoke about the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership between Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand.

The audience applauded several times, including when  the First Minister spoke about the importance of female leadership, and when she said:

“Growth in GDP should not be pursued at any and all cost … The goal of economic policy should be collective well-being: how happy and healthy a population is, not just how wealthy a population is.”

Watch the talk here, and please share widely.

 

Photo Ryan Lash/TED

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.

 

 

 

On Tuesday 26 March, WEAll Scotland teamed up with Rethinking Economics to co-host an event in Edinburgh discussing economics education and how Scotland can champion a more pluralist approach to economics.

Rethinking Economics is a WEAll member, and comprises an international network of students, academics and professionals building a better economics in society and the classroom.

The event was full of students, civil society professionals, academics and interested members of the public keen to discuss economics curriculum reform.

The panel was chaired by Ross Cathcart from Rethinking Economics, and included:

  • Gary Gillespie, Chief Economic Adviser, Scottish Government
  • Professor Robert McMaster, Professor of Political Economy, University of Glasgow
  • Lovisa Reiche, Rethinking Economics and APEG Member; Economics Student at University of Aberdeen
  • Dr. Katherine Trebeck, Research Director, Wellbeing Economy Alliance

Gary Gillespie kicked off by explaining his background as an academic economist who joined government to try to apply his economics skills to real world issues, particularly health issues in Scotland. Gary was clear that the central objective of the Scottish Government economics directorate is to improve economic and other outcomes for the people of Scotland. He said: “as an academic economist, I used to use policy to show how good the models were, not the other way around!” In later remarks, he stressed the importance of being responsive to the issues of the day, and of the need for economics and other graduates working in the public sector to be motivated by real world concerns.

Katherine Trebeck was clear that economics is at its best when it is pluralist and not “constrained by narrow bandwidths”. She re-imagined the famous Ronald Reagan quote (“the only limits to growth are the limits to our imagination”), saying that our imaginations are presently limited by fixation on growth but can go further. However, it’s not just a question of growth or no growth, but of opening minds – which the university system is particularly well placed to do. She also raised the question of elitism in economics, calling for people from a more diverse range of backgrounds to engage in the topic both as a degree subject and a career.

Robert McMaster explored the interplay between ethics and economics – which, he says, not enough economists are interested in doing. As a Professor who has taught economics at university level for a number of years, he believes that issues start on day one when students are required to focus straight away on “economic scarcity vs. unlimited wants”. He implored the audience to consider that economics, as currently taught, “tacitly condones those who wish to shape our wants”, and ignores power structures beyond market power.

Fourth year Economics undergraduate student Lovisa Reiche had the last word. In her view, economics should be about creating a system that works for as many people as possible. She said: “Economics isn’t all bad: but there are clear problems in the way it is being taught”. For Lovisa, some of the teaching has felt “artificial” and far removed from recognisable human behaviour and values. Frustrated with what she perceives to be the stripping away of relevance from the subject and profession, Lovisa and her fellow students at Aberdeen University have been campaigning for changes – from simple shifts in focus to curriculum overhaul.

The panel coalesced around the notion of the political coming back into economics – though none of them advocate losing the technical rigour of the subject. As Gary summarised, however, “what’s the point of economics if it’s not about addressing the big challenges we’re facing?”

Spirited questions from the audience continued the conversation, and it was clear that nobody wanted the discussion to end! It doesn’t have to: keep up with the work of Rethinking Economics and support the campaign for economics curriculum reform.

You can also find out more about the Scottish Government’s approach to wellbeing economics and the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership here.