by Beth Cloughton and Anna Murphy
It’s been over a year since WEAll Read was created – so Anna and I thought we’d get together for a (virtual) debrief…
B: Hi Anna. Thinking about a ‘Wellbeing Economy’, can you tell me what your definition and/or approach to this term is?
A: Of course. A Wellbeing Economy is about putting social and ecological wellbeing at the core of our society and its measure of success. It means moving from measuring ‘success’ of a business or society – any institution or organization – by profits or GDP, to metrics which better encapsulate the things we care about, like human health and fulfilment (‘wellbeing’), and a stable planet with beautiful nature.
“The current economic system is not ‘broken’ as it’s often labelled: it does what it was built to do, which is to drive profit over and above anything else”.
Building a Wellbeing Economy is about going back to the drawing board, reflecting on what we want our society to look like, and building systems to make that vision a reality.
What about you, what’s your approach?
B: For me, a Wellbeing Economy is a critical approach to our current economic systems. Be it the production & consumption economy, attention economy, moral and political economy – a Wellbeing Economy is a way to imagine something different to the dominant view. It is about prioritising people over profits for the 1%, it is about levelling the extreme disparity in wealth accumulation, and valuing ‘wellbeing’ more than capital. It is returning to balance with the environment, each other and ourselves.
Bearing this in mind, Anna what do you think are some of the key challenges to building a Wellbeing Economy?
A: I struggle not to get overwhelmed by the scale of the environmental challenge we face. If collectively, we make no further changes compared to those in 2015 at the Paris Agreement, we will reach 3.7 degrees warming by 2100. If we don’t fulfil even these insufficient commitments (which is where we’re currently at), we can expect warming of 4-5 degrees.
A world 5 degrees warmer can support only one billion people. Never mind ‘wellbeing’ – that is a catastrophe.
The challenge is that to transition at the speed and depth required of the planet, the process will have to be fair – which requires certain groups of people and countries to give up huge power and privilege. We need leadership and collaboration at an unprecedented scale, and I don’t see politicians with that foresight, courage or competence. One particularly relevant misconception is the belief that current levels of incremental change are enough.
Another more tangible challenge is that the economics field was not designed to be accessible – there’s so much unnecessary jargon. Yet we are expected to be informed enough to vote.
The WEAll Read book club is about breaking down barriers to economic ideas, and about getting the message out there that thinking about, debating and criticising economics is for everybody.
What’s the WEAll Read Glasgow book club like?
B: The WEAll Read Glasgow book club is still in its first year and is experimental with what we do. We have read a broad range of books that aren’t necessarily considered classic economic texts; we have included podcasts, collections of essays and journaling. The space at WEAll Read Glasgow is open, relaxed and conversational. I see the space as welcoming and accessible to lots of people, especially those who may be new to some ideas around a Wellbeing Economy.
A: This feels like a good point to bring up the intersections of a Wellbeing Economy. How do you feel a Wellbeing Economy, and even the WEAll Read book club, addresses different intersections?
B: A Wellbeing Economy is necessarily dealing with the complex intersections of people. Capitalism, and particularly its neoliberal form, homogenises and hierarchises people into ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’ based on capital output.
A Wellbeing Economy approach has to acknowledge power, history, inequality and paths to justice for a genuinely different system to occur.
We can’t talk about environmental justice without talking about racial justice, nor can we speak about gender equality without speaking about unpaid labor, trans-equality and food systems. The climate emergency affects people in myriad ways that are experienced based on both your global, local and identity position. Talking purely about an economic model in terms of input/output is void of both reality and justice.
Thinking personally, Anna, would you say any changes have come about in your personal life from being more a part of a Wellbeing Economy space?
A: I’ve built deep friendships – I now have both friends and connections with whom to relentlessly chat about these ideas, and that’s been empowering and uplifting. I’ve deeply questioned assumptions I hadn’t realised I held. Last, it’s created a space to dream – reading The Economics of Arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams and learning about the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership was so inspiring. So there’s been the realisation that there are people out there with the courage to pursue the perceived impossible. That’s exactly what we need.
What about you?
B: I would say that joining the WEAll Read book club has enabled me to carve out space each month to discuss difficult topics and ideas with the support of others. It has led me to recognise the scope of change a Wellbeing Economy has, especially in relation to how intersectionality must be at the core of this work.
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