Can we empower ourselves and others through sharing our experiences, and can sharing our experiences help shape social and economic narratives? Discussion about our economic, political, and social systems are often dominated by those who have acquired knowledge through extensive training yet have little direct experience of the consequences of those systems. This talk will explore the value of our experiences (in contrast to formal knowledge acquisition) and how we can and must bring those experiences to what we do to empower ourselves and others. This talk will be structured around the speaker’s current role supporting community mental health, his academic career as a happiness and wellbeing researcher, and what an 18-month cycling journey to Bhutan showed him about the interplay between knowledge and experience.

Christopher Boyce is currently a community mental health support worker in the Scottish Borders. He originally trained as an economist (BSc, MSc) and went on to explore the links between the economy and wellbeing, completing a PhD in Psychology in 2009. Over the years he has worked at various academic institutions and published more than 25 peer-reviewed academic papers on happiness and wellbeing. However, his academic career came to an end when he realised just how much of a threat the academic system was to his own happiness and wellbeing. He then spent 18-months cycling to Bhutan exploring alternative ways of being, finding deeper personal fulfillment, and sharing his experiences with others. Since returning from that journey he has committed to the creation of conditions that foster individual & societal wellbeing.

Dec 8, 2022 03:00 PM in Universal Time UTC

At its core, economics is about choice. What do we value? How do we choose between competing priorities? How do we balance the needs of different groups? How do we balance the needs of current and future generations? The purpose of Te Tai Waiora: Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand 2022 is to inform those choices – Caralee McLiesh, Secretary to the Treasury.

Today Aotearoa New Zealand published its first national wellbeing report – Te Tai Waiora – an independent big-picture stocktake into the state of wellbeing in New Zealand, produced by the Treasury.

It’s a deep and detailed look into the country’s collective wellbeing – from its people’s health, income, relationships to its cultural and natural environmental wealth. It’s incredibly important that the New Zealand Treasury and Government inquire into more than just GDP or other traditional economic metrics. Asking a wider range of questions where the country is at and where it needs to improve leads to more and better answers how collective wellbeing can be improved.

Te Tai Waiora is a fair and comprehensive report built upon voluminous data and numerous studies but it is only a snapshot in time. Under the Public Finance (Wellbeing) Amendment Act, the Treasury is required to provide an independent report at least every four years which will allow wellbeing to be traced better over time. 

The report finds that in some areas New Zealanders wellbeing is improving in terms of incomes and health, and in comparison to other OECD countries we have high life satisfaction and levels of social cohesion and trust. However, in other areas such as housing, education and mental health we do less well and the situation is especially stark for young New Zealanders. This intergenerational wellbeing gap is a major challenge identified in the report as well as the risks from climate change and other natural shocks.

It highlights critical areas where the country needs to improve. Like a map, Te Tai Waiora can tell us where things are, but decisions need to be made where the direction of travel will be. If the country is going to tackle the systemic and long-standing problems like intergenerational inequity, poor quality and unaffordable housing & transitioning to a low-carbon, resilient economy it is going to take decision makers and the public making deliberate choices to act. While the report doesn’t contain policy recommendations it is going to take concrete policies to tackle the problems. Better yet this report offers us a reminder that by redesigning our economy and systems to prioritise dignity, purpose, nature, fairness and participation we can deliver wellbeing by default.

by Margreet Frieling, Knowledge Co-Lead at WEAll

Margreet has fifteen years of experience working in the public sector internationally, including for the OECD, the New Zealand Ministries for the Environment, Social Development, Education, and Finance and the Dutch Ministry of Health & Wellbeing.

Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers is joining the global movement towards a wellbeing economy with his new budget, announced last month that aims to weave wellbeing indicators into government budget decision-making. While traditionally, government budget analysis has focused on a limited set of economic outcomes like GDP, inflation and unemployment, the new Australian budget will base its priorities on a more comprehensive analysis of societal wellbeing outcomes. In the aftermath of raging bushfires, extreme floods and COVID-19, the new Australian Wellbeing Budget recognises that there is more to life than economic growth. Instead, scanning societal wellbeing evidence across social, environmental and economic outcomes paints a much more realistic picture for deciding on government priorities. One that better reflects people’s lived experiences. 

In its move towards wellbeing budgeting, Australia can build on its extensive experience in measuring societal wellbeing, such as its pioneering work on Measures of Australia’s Progress, the wellbeing framework developed by the Australian Treasury and the more recent work by the ACT government and other Australian states. Australia is also not alone on this journey. Internationally, a growing number of governments are developing wellbeing indicator frameworks to inform and shape better public policy (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Australia has led the early work on wellbeing framework development

Source: OECD, 2021

Putting wellbeing measures at the heart of the budget process

However, measurement alone is not enough. The government budget process is a critical lever to more strongly link wellbeing evidence to government spending and policy prioritization. Governments around the world, in countries like New Zealand, Scotland, Bhutan, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, and Wales are working towards Wellbeing Budget approaches that base budget decisions on a more comprehensive set of evidence about the outcomes that ultimately matter to people, including not just the health of finances and the economy, but also of our natural environments, people and communities.

Critics in Australia have argued that wellbeing budgeting is nothing more than a way to “elevate Labour spending priorities ” or “another excuse for higher taxes and bigger deficits”. The political origins of the wellbeing agenda is however neither ‘left’ or ‘right’. Internationally, calls for a wellbeing policy approach have come from parties across the political spectrum, including the Conservative Party in the UK, the Christen-Democrats in Germany, the Liberal Party of Canada, and the Scottish National Party. Wellbeing Budgeting is also as much about cutting spending on those things that detract from our societal wellbeing as it is about spending more on the things that make our lives better. 

Others might argue that wellbeing has nothing to do with the role of the Treasury, who should only be concerned with economic and fiscal outcomes. Ironically, it is exactly this confusion between means and ends that a wellbeing approach is trying to address. While Australia has praised itself for more than 25 years of continuous growth, the severe environmental, inequality, health, housing and cost-of-living crises it is facing are telling us that growth does not equal true progress. By targeting wellbeing more directly – and explicitly building wellbeing considerations into policy upstream – we can create economic systems that serve societal wellbeing, rather than continuing to sacrifice the wellbeing of people and the planet for the sake of the economy.   

The start of a journey rather than the end

Nonetheless, wellbeing budgets mark the start of a journey towards better societal wellbeing, rather than the finish point. New government budgets announced each year are small compared with baseline funding that rolls on from year to year (equalling about 4% of core Crown expenditure). To have real impact, wellbeing analysis needs to be integrated throughout all of government decision-making. 

There is also a steep learning curve. Working towards wellbeing asks for shared understandings across government of what societal wellbeing means and how different wellbeing outcomes interrelate. It requires policy makers to understand the system rather than its component parts and to focus on the root causes of our crises rather than firefighting the symptoms of a broken system. Moreover, as improving wellbeing is ultimately a whole-of-society affair, it calls on governments to reconnect with the people they serve.

Then, there is accountability. Rather than a new narrative or objective, ‘wellbeing’ needs to become a new way of working. Inspiration here can be drawn from the Wales Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, which goes beyond specifying wellbeing goals to identify the ways of working to arrive at these outcomes. An independent Commissioner supports the Welsh government on this journey and holds agencies to account if needed. 

Last but not least, wellbeing budgets can only be successful if the frameworks that underpin them reflect the diversity of perspectives in society on what wellbeing means. A successful Australian Wellbeing Budget must therefore recognise the importance of First Nations views on wellbeing in shaping both budget decisions and policy approaches. 

Treasuring what matters most – and spending government budgets accordingly – is an essential step in moving towards wellbeing economies. The WEAll Policy Design Guide, developed by the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, provides valuable guidance for those wanting to join Australia and many others on this vital journey towards wellbeing for all on a healthy planet.

by Kate Pickett

Kate is co-author, with Richard Wilkinson, of The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies
Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-Being.

We seem to be reeling from crisis to crisis these days – the global financial crisis of 2008 has been followed by the cost of living crisis, the climate crisis is inflicting drought, heatwaves, and other environmental catastrophes across the world, and we are in the midst of multiple pandemics, not just Covid-19.  One of those pandemics is mental ill health.  The World Health Organisation ranks depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide; in its latest, pre-pandemic, estimates from 2017, more than 300 million people were living with depression, and the prevalence had increased precipitously since 2005.

The burden of mental illness continues to worsen, and much of the current pressure on mental health is easy to understand. Over recent years there has been growing awareness of the wider determinants of mental health.  The Power Threat Meaning framework for explaining mental health links wider social factors such as poverty, discrimination and inequality, along with individual experiences of trauma as pathways to emotional distress and troubled behaviour. The Covid-19 pandemic increased mental health problems directly, as we all worried about our own health and the wellbeing of loved ones, and indirectly through the unintended consequences of the lockdowns and other measures that were undertaken to reduce transmission.  In the city of Bradford in the north of England, where I work with a team focused on the health and wellbeing of children and families, we saw a doubling of the prevalence of clinical levels of depression and also increases in loneliness, financial, food and housing insecurity. Families reported acute health anxieties, the strain of managing multiple responsibilities, loss of social support, and being unable to switch off from what was happening in the pandemic. Now, with eye-watering increases in the costs of fuel and energy, but also in food prices and housing costs, everyone living in poverty is facing extreme levels of anxiety and stress.

But it isn’t just the poor who will suffer the mental health consequences of what is happening in the world economy.  Even those who would previously have been financially comfortable are now worried by rising fuel bills and the impact of inflation on their mortgages. Average real incomes have declined – most of us are now having to cover more with less.

Importantly, it isn’t just poverty and lack of material resources that is driving the worldwide pandemic of mental ill health. Many mental illnesses are triggered or exacerbated by issues of superiority and inferiority.  Inequality itself, the gap between rich and poor, causes mental health problems on a significant scale. This is because, in more unequal societies, social comparisons become toxic, anxieties about social status increase and some people go under with depression and anxiety, while others respond with self-enhancing narcissism and psychosis. Inequality is linked to lower levels of happiness because of increased mistrust and more status competition in more unequal societies.  The differences in levels of mental illness between more and less equal countries are large precisely because inequality affects almost everyone and in myriad ways.

Systematic reviews of research studies covering large numbers of participants provide robust evidence that economic inequality has psychological consequences and affects mental illness and that austerity measures tended to worsen mental health and increase inequalities.  In the face of this evidence, we should be deeply shocked that, in many countries, on balance, political choices and policy responses to the cost of living crisis will actually increase economic inequality and the misery it inflicts.

Even though most governments can point to actions taken to mitigate the crisis, in general they will be insufficient to help people keep up with rising costs, and, in some cases, policies are actively increasing the gap between rich and poor. 

For example, in the UK, the government has imposed a one-year windfall tax on gas and oil firms, given all households a one-off payment as an energy discount as well as extra money to older people and those receiving social security benefits, and frozen energy bills for households for two years. More than £1billion has been given to local governments to support poorer households. But while these measures will go some way towards easing the economic burden for many, they won’t fully mitigate rising costs and inflation so the poor will get poorer. And the International Monetary Fund has warned that the UK government’s  Growth Plan for 2022 will increase inequality, making the rich richer. In the face of the evidence that inequality damages the health and wellbeing of the population, current economic strategies and choices are making it worse. Across most of the world, income and wealth inequalities within countries have risen over recent decades, including in East Asia, South Asia, North America and Europe.

Now is the time to align our understanding of the causes of population health and wellbeing, including mental health, with political, economic and social strategies.  New economic policies that centre on wellbeing are already underway in countries like Finland, Iceland, Canada and New Zealand, who are collaborating under the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership program (WEGo) to advance wellbeing policies that prioritise people and the planet. While Wales and Scotland are also part of the partnership and some traction has been made, more could be done to live up to their ambitions of a wellbeing economy.

New Zealand, for example included mental health as one of their 5 priority  areas for their wellbeing budget which was launched in 2019 and facilitated a $NZ 1.9 billion investment in mental health. Their 2022 budget includes a $NZ 100 million investment over four years which will support community based crisis services, enhance existing specialist child and adolescent mental health and addiction services, as well as fund workforce development programs for service workers.

However, what is important is that the wellbeing approach is not simply about mitigating the negative outcomes of our current economic system but recognizing that all aspects of what constitutes a good life must be considered holistically, whether it’s access to health care and education or a strong sense of connection to one’s community. It is growth in wellbeing that we need, and growth in mature, evidence-based debate or what works, not growth in outmoded GDP.

by Lisa Hough-Stewart

In March 2021, WEAll published our Policy Design Guide. This Guide was co-created with over 70 WEAll members, and aims to support visionary policy makers to build just and sustainable economies for people and the planet. 

Since then, WEAll hubs in California, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland have been working with community partners and local or city governments to bring the Wellbeing Economy Policy Design process to life. Today we are proud to launch the outputs of three of these pilots (the Scottish pilot will run to the end of 2022) and a brand new website that offers an interactive journey through the Wellbeing Economy Policy Design process, and a host of new resources based on the experiences of the pilot teams.

The WEAll hub teams have created a variety of outputs to tell the story of their journey and learnings. The most exciting news is that all of these projects will continue in some form – the pilot phase is just the beginning, and it’s an important moment to reflect on the journey so far. Below you can learn more about how each of the hubs brought the the wellbeing economy policy design guide to life at a local level:

WEAll New Zealand:  

In Porirua, Aotearoa New Zealand, the WEAll hub has been working with community partners including Indigenous Maori tribe organisations, to share learnings and good practice around Wellbeing Economy concepts. Below is a case study showcasing the work of Te Hiko in Porirua as an exemplar of the Wellbeing Economy in action. Porirua, New Zealand: “What we heard” visual report on the Te Hiko case study

WEAll California

In Pomona, California, the WEAll team is working in partnership with local community organisation Latino Latina Roundtable and city officials to carry out visioning work for what a Wellbeing Economy means for the city. They have progressed to an exploration of what a Community Wealth Building initiative could look like:

Pomona, California: Mini documentary on the Pomona Wellbeing Economy project

WEAll Canada

In Toronto, Canada, a core group of individuals representing diverse communities in the city has been on a deep-dive journey to envision a Wellbeing Economy future for Toronto and explore system change theory. They are experimenting with Wellbeing Economy outreach initiatives in their various communities and have published their story in a brand new “zine”:

Toronto, Canada: Zine sharing the Toronto Imaginal Transitions process

WEAll Scotland

In the Letham area of Perth, Scotland, the team has established Commissions of children, adults and young people which also include decision makers and local council representatives. WEAll Scotland carried out in-depth visioning work with hundreds of children and young people about what living well in Letham would mean for them, and the Commissions are driving forward those visions by analysing how the Council can make them a reality. Check out the Love Letham website (please note the Love Letham pilot continues to Dec 22)

ZOE Institute for Future Fit Economies has been delivering this project in partnership with WEAll, and they led on the creation of a new website: “Designing Policies for a Wellbeing Economy”  to help provide resources for policy makers seeking to move towards a Wellbeing Economy in their own communities. 

This site is connected to ZOE’s existing successful Policy Database, and it adds the “how” of policy process to the “what” of this extensive database that ZOE already offers for policymakers.

Visitors to the site can go on a bespoke journey through the Policy Design process, offering an interactive and tailored way to engage with the original content of the Policy Design Guide. This includes case studies and examples of best practice in policy design from around the world.

Beyond this, the site also offers a wealth of new content – all of which is based on the experiences of the four pilot projects. Throughout the site you will find fifteen brand new resources, from workshop templates to guidance for different parts of the process. To name a few, we are pleased to publish:

You can read more about the background of the pilot projects in our introductory blog posted in December 2021 and about how they approached the creation of wellbeing visions in this update from May 2022.

by Simon Ticehurst Movements and Advocacy Lead at WEAll

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first time I attended a multilateral event was at the beach resort of Cancun, when I was with Oxfam at the WTO Summit, in September 2003. Coldplay, who were championing Oxfam´s Make Trade Fair campaign, turned up with a message of hope that multilateralism could deliver fair trade rules. The summit collapsed, no consensus was reached, and it ended early, after Lee Kyung-hae, a Korean farmer, angered by the failure to address the concerns of small farmers, stabbed himself in the heart and died at the organized protest. Right in front of me. 

Seven years later, after the meltdown and disappointment of climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, the COP16 was held, again in Cancun, in 2010.  A last-minute agreement to establish a global Climate Fund took the climate talks off its life support system. But it wasn´t until the COP21 in Paris in 2015 that things started to get serious. The Paris Agreement established a landmark, legally-binding treaty to limit global warming and take action against climate change. A first real sign of hope for a global solution to climate change. 

Fast forward to 2022, the parties come together at another beach resort, at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, for COP27. 

Despite the setting, the scientific evidence being presented at the COP27 from the latest IPCC report paints a bleak picture of accelerated decline resulting from the impact of climate change, with widespread and irreversible losses in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems, as well as impacts on human systems, water scarcity and food production, health and wellbeing. 

The Egyptian presidency is calling this the “Implementation COP.” The time to move from negotiation to implementation, from words to action. 

There are two main COP workstreams following the Paris Agreement: Climate finance, essential for any type of climate action and scaling up of ambition, and mitigation commitments aimed at turning down the heat and keeping the planet below 1.5 degrees. We are not yet seeing the political will and annual commitment on finance, and according to the latest IPCC report there is no longer a pathway to achieve the 1.5 degree target ceiling. 

The global context of multiple crises threatens further disappointment. In a time of Covid recovery, the war in Ukraine is adding further crisis. Energy and food inflation combined with fiscal pressures are exacerbating inequalities and generating renewed demands for fossil fuels, taking us down a trajectory contrary to the goals of the Paris Agreements. So many of our intererconnected crisis, are caused by a flawed economic system that doesn’t protect the natural environment. 

Not surprisingly, we are also off-track with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals. The latest 2022 UN report argues that the confluence of crises are affecting implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Yet we cannot let the crisis we face in the short-term sideline our commitments and dilute the political will to address the climate emergency which UN Secretary- General António Guterres describes as “the defining issue of our time”.

Where can we find hope?

Inger Anderson, Executive Director of UNEP states that “only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.” 

In the context of crises and implementation failures, we can no longer revert to type and kick the can down the road. The time has come for more radical solutions. Hope lies in the growing convergence around increasingly sophisticated propositions to deliver planetary wellbeing. Such thinking includes the post-growth pathways that require a fundamental turnaround in economic systems, of production and consumption models, with more regenerative, cyclical, redistributive and predistributive design and implementation principles as outlined in the Club of Rome’s latest book, “Earth for All.” 

Governments across the world are also moving towards new economic frameworks that take into account the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance government Partnership program is a great example of this. Leaders from Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Scotland, and Canada are collaborating on ways to develop policies that go beyond economic measures alone and take the health of nature into account. 

Moreover, there are ways to finance this transition, through progressive fiscal reform, windfall taxes on those who have benefitted in times of crisis, for example the huge profits of energy companies and the super rich who have doubled their wealth during Covid. Clearly the time has come (again) to provide debt relief, to help address the financial shortfall, provide fiscal space for developing countries for public services, economic transitions, and climate adaptation. 

Another source of hope lies in the greater influence of perspectives from the Global South. Regions, like Africa, have contributed little to the climate crisis, and yet face some of the worst consequences given their higher levels of environmental and societal vulnerability. One such perspective is related to “loss and damages” resulting from the impact of climate change. Rich nations have so far been reluctant to discuss the financial implications of this, but it is gathering momentum and is now finally on the agenda of the COP27 and was also discussed in the latest IPCC report. Introducing loss and damages raises the stakes by bringing in issues of responsibility, reparations and attributions. While politically complex, organizations from the global south are pushing for loss and damages as a third pillar of climate negotiations. Loss and damages can force a rethink around financial commitments and contributions, and pressure for both debt and tax reform as well as renewed financial commitments for mitigation and adaptation, the so-called New Qualitative Collective Goal (NQCG) on financing. 

And finally, hope lies in people power. Regardless of the long distance and difficulties of access to such a remote location, and even with the accumulated frustration around how slow things are moving, this is an opportunity to connect and collaborate with others and help build alliances and a movement that can provide momentum for a convergent power base able to influence change further and faster. There are a range of organizations, movements and alliances addressing the different component parts of human and environmental wellbeing, and the  climate change movement is a key part of this. The challenges they are all trying to address have economic roots, but not all movements embrace or converge around the need for economic systems change. Can such a convergence be around the recognition of the needed economic turnaround mentioned above? The root and branch transformation of our economies, as proposed by the Director of UNEP? Can we go further and work together around the central ideas of a new global eco-social contract? Our collective participation at Sharm el Sheikh can help connect with this convergence of purpose, narrative and action and force greater accountability and change. It’s also an opportunity for us to look at the systems that are driving the climate crisis, in particular our economic system which doesn’t value the environment. And for those of us who can´t make it to Sharm el Sheikh, “well you get on your feet and out on the street”. Join this global movement towards a wellbeing economy. Never lose infinite hope.

This talk outlines two transdisciplinary natural experiments, in two deprived urban areas of Manchester and London (UK). Both projects involve working with local communities to “measure what we treasure” and go beyond traditional measures.

The first involved a new £4 million co-designed ‘sponge’ park in a flood-risk area, at the end of a housing-led regeneration programme in central Manchester. The park interventions involve Nature Based Solutions that will help provide resilience to heatwaves and flooding in the future. However we focus on the large changes in wellbeing behaviour, compared to baseline measures and matched comparison area measures, where no interventions were undertaken.

The second larger case is currently at baseline stage. This scheme is an ambitious £7bn mixed-use urban regeneration project in north London. This new Park Town seeks to inspire better ways of living and working, creating 7,000 homes, workspace for 25,000 and a wealth of sports and leisure facilities, all set around 50 acres of green parks. Unlike most international regeneration schemes, success will be assessed, in part, against a flourishing index, consisting largely of important psychological and social experiences. 

We outline our mixed-methods, ‘quadruple helix’ approach, involving a wide array of local government, industry, community and academic partners and collaborators. As well as providing a selection of headline wellbeing findings, we describe some of the trials and tribulations involved in navigating what appears to be largely ‘uncharted territory’ – toward best-practice fusion of wellbeing research, policy and practice at the localised scale.

Dr Jamie Anderson Bio

Jamie leads Buro Happold’s urban flourishing offer within their UK sustainability team, whilst also working part-time at the University of Manchester, leading international wellbeing research. His award-winning PhD was supervised jointly by an urban designer and neuro-psychologist at Cambridge University, and he continues to develop inter-disciplinary approaches, working with digital and analogue, quantitative and qualitative techniques. He is fortunate to have worked on a range of projects at varying scales, to create and translate good wellbeing evidence in varied practitioner and policy settings – largely in the UK but also in the US and Middle East. Jamie is passionate about collaborative approaches that embrace the complexity of wellbeing, which he finds, at times, disorientating but, richly rewarding.

Vaishali Senthil

Vaishali is an engineer within Buro Happold’s sustainability team, focussing on how to bring people and planet to the forefront of design. Having worked on a range of projects, from building scale design to policy recommendations for local governments and charities, she works towards the creation of a more socially equitable and climate just industry. Vaishali is passionate about rethinking norms, collaborating with the communities we are creating places for and monitoring the metrics that matter to them.

by Suzan Joy of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance East Africa

Agriculture is a major driver of African economies, typically representing 30-40% of GDP and 65-70% of labor force. Smallholder farmers still control the largest areas for production, most of whom practice mixed farming. They employ 70% of the workforce and are home to most of the poor. More than half of the rural households are dependent on agriculture.

It’s becoming more common that large commercial farms are buying out small farms.. When this happens they become vulnerable to interests and conditions set by larger farms. The problem is the majority of large farms produce for exports and don’t practice regenerative farming. They practice monocropping which destroys the soil fertility, apply artificial fertilizers which contain chemicals into the soil and are the largest promoters of genetically modified foods.

Because small farms are owned by farmers who have limited resources to counteract challenges like unreliable rainfall patterns, pests & diseases, land conflicts amongst other challenges , they are set off balance and this affects the quality and quantity of food produced. 

It’s important to note that smallholder farmers supply food to the local markets. So we can not ignore the role small farms play in ending hunger at national level. Many of them practice ecological agriculture which leads to sustainable production and environmental conservation. Therefore for smallholder farmers to strive, we need to collaborate with them to solve their challenges.

Farmers african wellbeing

So how can we support smallholder farmers?

There is a need to provide subsidies and policy reforms for farmers. Many have limited access to credit and farm inputs so a package of inputs and credit access would make a huge difference. For example The Pollination project distributes seed grants to grassroots community projects worldwide, and through this they have funded agricultural projects and supported small holder farmers like Martin Morris set up an irrigation system for a community vegetable garden that supplies food to residents of Okunai village, Soroti district. They have supported Akongo Benza with a revolving fund for a savings and credit scheme project comprised of over 130 small holder farmers in Bukedi, Tororo District. 

Land tenure policy reform is a priority as many farmers have expressed land access as a major constraint. We also need to strengthen institutions to make markets work better for smallholder farmers. Some of these institutions could provide services such as access to finance, market intelligence, marketing and business development services

Training and resource sharing on key areas like soil fertility, post harvest handling, pests and diseases amongst others. And promote strategic non violence to address the raising cases of land grab.

We need to strengthen the network of regenerative agriculture advocates to lift small holder farmers so they can continue producing food for local markets!

African food production

Since September 2021, four WEAll hubs in California, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland have been piloting the Wellbeing Economy Policy Design process in partnership with local communities and local government. The pilot phase of their work to transform policymaking is coming to an end – but this is a long-term, complex work that will continue in all four locations.

Throughout the pilot projects, the four teams have been collaborating with the WEAll Global team and our partners at ZOE Institute for Future-fit Economies to document shared and individual learnings. Based on the experiences of the pilots, over 15 new resources and templates have been developed to support others around the world who want to carry out similar projects to transform policymaking in specific locations.

On Tuesday, 15 November, we will launch a brand new website which showcases these new resources and also takes people on an interactive journey through the Policy Design Guide process.

Join us to hear from the four hub teams about their experiences and what is coming next for their projects, and to be amongst the first to experience the new website and resources.

Event details:

Tuesday 15 November 

2.30-3.30pm UTC time

Please register on zoom in advance of the meeting

About the pilots

  • In Pomona, California, the WEAll team is working in partnership with local community organisation Latino Latina Roundtable and city officials to carry out visioning work for what a Wellbeing Economy means for the city. They have progressed to an exploration of what a Community Wealth Building initiative could look like.
  • In Toronto, Canada, a core group of individuals representing diverse communities in the city has been on a deep-dive journey to envision a Wellbeing Economy future for Toronto and explore system change theory. They are experimenting with Wellbeing Economy outreach initiatives in their various communities and will publish stories from these before 15 November in a brand new “zine”.
  • In Porirua, Aotearoa New Zealand, the WEAll hub has been working with community partners including Indigenous Maori tribe organisations, to share learnings and good practice around Wellbeing Economy concepts. They will soon publish a case study showcasing the work of Te Hiko in Porirua as an exemplar of the Wellbeing Economy in action.
  • In the Letham area of Perth, Scotland, the team has established Commissions of children, adults and young people which also include decision makers and local council representatives. WEAll Scotland carried out in-depth visioning work with hundreds of children and young people about what living well in Letham would mean for them, and the Commissions are driving forward those visions by analysing how the Council can make them a reality.

You can read more about the background to the projects in this blog from April 2022.

Curious to hear more and be part of the conversation about Wellbeing Economy policy design work? We hope to see you on 15 November from 2.30pm UTC time:

Written by: Alden Lai, Amanda Janoo, Jennifer Wallace, Jon Hall, and Tim Lomas,

Over the past 20 years there have been increasing calls to shift from the dominant paradigms in economics and public policy that prioritise economic growth to a new conceptual framework of progress that centres on our people and planet’s quality of life. The word “wellbeing” is increasingly used to refer to this paradigm shift. But other terms also have resonance — sustainable development, human development, Doughnut Economics, Wellbeing Economy, wellbeing governments, happiness or subjective wellbeing, the Green New Deal and so on.

The purpose of this essay is to explore whether and how we can reconcile different concepts into a holistic framework — taking the shared threads from each concept and weaving them into something that allows for collaboration and development, rather than competition and division. It arises from observations by the authors that it can be hard to get a new paradigm up and off the ground when so much time is spent arguing about what to call it. As we face many threats, including a global pandemic, a biodiversity catastrophe, and a war in Europe, fostering a common language and platform is more important than ever.

Click below to read the full essay. We hope you enjoy it and, if you have any comments or suggestions for inclusion, please contact

Join us next 29 September 2022 at 4 p.m. UTC time for a WEAll Talk with member Bob Willard.

Net-Zero Procurement (N-ZP) is obtaining the best value for money when purchasing the most climate-friendly goods and services from suppliers who are most committed to science-based net-zero targets. This talk will explain the three main features of N-ZP and how governments can use it as a ubiquitous market force to mobilize the global business community in the race to achieve science-based net-zero greenhouse gas targets.

Bob is a leading expert on sustainability justifications, assessment frameworks, and sustainable procurement.  Over the last 20 years, he has given more than 1,500 presentations, has authored six books and published two white papers. He provides extensive free, open-source resources for sustainability champions. He is an award-winning Certified B Corp, a Sustainability Excellence Professional, and a Future-Fit Certified Professional. He has a PhD in sustainability from the University of Toronto.

by Raad Sharar 

The scars of colonialism run deep. Even after the independence of the vast majority of African states  from their colonisers, the reality of returning to pre-colonial times is nothing short of utopian.  

Colonialism has brought about significant changes in society, culture, and behaviour, in addition to the myriad exploitative and inhuman acts experienced by the African people. These changes have forced a disconnect between the African people and their heritage. The damage caused by colonialism still feeds this disconnect today under the guises of free-market economics and neo-liberalism. Against this stark backdrop, the question arises: “Who are we to become, disconnected  from our roots and our opulent heritage?” 

The launch of the Afrik-Akili Declaration creates a platform for conversations about Africa, its heritage, its limitless vessels of knowledge, and most importantly, it sets out to remind Africans and the world about the continent’s role as the cradle of humanity and the birthplace of the first civilisations. The declaration aims to reconnect Africans with their heritage, allowing the African people to envision a new way of being human while strongly holding the belief that anyone disconnected from their roots cannot flourish. 

The Afrik-Akili Declaration puts forward ten principles to inspire and motivate meaningful connection between the people of Africa, as well as Africa and the world. The proclamation’s principles speak of Africa as the continent that gave birth to humanity and highlights that we all share a common humanity. It incorporates themes of interconnection between past and future generations,  sustainable and circular use of Africa’s natural resources, connectedness to, and respect for, Earth,  nature and people, recognition of the scientific innovations and traditions of Africa, and the centrality of a living systems approach. 

The launch event for the declaration took place on 9 August 2022 and was formally opened by Chief  Hamish Arries, Goab of the Koi and San nations and was led by panellists including Dr. Mamphela  Ramphele, the Co-President of the Club of Rome, several other African Club of Rome members, Solomon Ndondo, a youth educator and counsellor from Zimbabwe and Dr. Fidelis Allen, Professor in the University of Port Harcourt.  

The panellists spoke passionately and with resonance about their perception of the Afrik-Akili  Declaration and the important influence it could have on the future of the African continent.  

“We are here today to launch the Afrik-Akili as a declaration, which is an invitation by the Club of  Rome, together with its partners, to all of humanity, to witness the symbolic occasion of Africa,  reclaiming her place in the world, as the mother continent, the cradle of humanity and the cradle of the very first human civilization. The declaration is an invitation to the human family to engage with  Africa. The Africa we sense, and we are proud of, so that we might together, remember, and learn anew and become human again. African people at home and abroad, I invite you to drink again, from the well of wisdom, and the rich knowledge heritage of our mother continent. Embrace it, hear its songs and its melodies, dance to its rhythms and be joyful.” – Dr. Mamphela Rhampele, Co-President  of the Club of Rome. 

“…so, we should embrace our brothers and sisters (colonial thinkers) abroad. But we must also say to them, you have done our mother a great injustice, you have taken from the soil, the many minerals. Please think about what you have done. Look into our communities, into our townships and see what you have created. And the time is now, with this ubuntu methodology, this thinking this declaration, come back and correct your wrongs. And we will embrace you because we love you as our children. You are born from us and come back to us.” – Chief Hamish Arries of the Koi and San nations.

Alongside rich contributions from the panellists, the launch also served as a platform where the audience, representing diverse backgrounds and ages, engaged in open conversation with the speakers about Africa and its future. 

It is intended that the Afrik-Akili Declaration will serve as a foundation for future actions that are envisioned for the African continent and also as a guide for current efforts there. 

We invite you to sign the declaration and join us in this holistic and transformative journey. To further engage with the Afrik-Akili Declaration please contact:

When business meets the Doughnut

To meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet, Doughnut Economics poses some big challenges for businesses. The business world will need to embrace bold and ambitious solutions that are both regenerative and distributive. To make this possible, we will need to transform the deep design of business: its purpose and networks, how it is governed and owned and the nature of its relationship with finance. This talk will explore ideas and models for achieving the needed transformations in business to help humanity into the Doughnut.

Erinch Sahan bio

Erinch is the business and enterprise lead at Doughnut Economics Action Lab. Recently, he was the chief executive of the World Fair Trade Organization and previously spent 7 years at Oxfam leading campaign initiatives and founded Oxfam’s Future of Business Initiative. Erinch has also worked at Procter & Gamble as a market strategy manager, established a furniture business and worked for Australia’s aid programme. Erinch is a board member of the Social Enterprise World Forum and teaches sustainable value chains at Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. He holds degrees in finance and law, and an honorary doctorate from Oxford Brookes University.


The mission of the Swedish Organization for Global Health (SOGH) is “to channel youth passion and talent to create a positive change in people’s health, from spreading knowledge about global and planetary health topics to concretely improving the quality and accessibility of health care in low-income settings” 

As part of that mission, the organisation seeks to adhere more to the terms of planetary health. One area that was looked into was sustainable banking – where are the grants and donations kept before being transferred to the different projects? This talk will describe the experience of trying to mindfully choose a sustainable bank as a small NGO and consider questions and problems that can arise. We are looking forward to a fruitful conversation on how organizations, as well as individuals, can take action towards greener and fairer finances. 

When: 25 August 2022, at 8 a.m. UTC

Where: Zoom

The Transform our Economy Group is a collaboration between Friends of the Earth Scotland, Scottish Environment LINK’s Economics Group, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland and Prof Camilla Toulmin. Together we’ve analysed Scotland’s recent National Strategy for Economic Transformation.

Read our full analysis here.

With climate change impacts being felt around the world and rising prices pushing more and more people into poverty, the need to redesign our economy to serve people and planet has never been clearer. 

Last year the Transform our Economy Alliance published 10 points that set how an economic strategy for Scotland can start to deliver wellbeing for all within environmental limits. 

Those 10 points were endorsed by 42 academic experts and organisations such as Poverty Alliance and Scottish Women’s Budget Group.

So how does ‘Delivering Economic Prosperity’, the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation stack up against the 10 points? 

We conclude that the strategy has made partial progress against four of the ten points, but has not fully met any of them. You can read our detailed assessment here. This lack of progress is deeply disappointing, given the importance of the strategy for setting the direction of Scotland’s society, environment, and economy over the next 10 years. 

The disconnect between the priorities and ambition of the strategy and the scale of the challenges facing Scotland stems from a lack of an inclusive and wide-ranging participatory process for determining the strategy’s priorities. We hope that the delivery plans will be developed through a more inclusive process that can help to align the strategy more closely with the needs of people and planet. 

Join our board of trustees and help build the movement to redesign Scotland’s economy.

WEAll Scotland is a collaboration of organisations, movements and individuals working to transform the economic system into one that delivers social justice on a healthy planet. 

We believe that our economy needs to be redesigned so it provides us with what matters most – dignity, connection, nature, fairness and meaningful participation. We work with a growing network of Allies across Scotland who are playing their part to deliver a Wellbeing Economy at different levels of society. We are the Scottish arm of the global Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) which has hubs in 15 countries.

Even before the cost of living crisis, one in four children in Scotland were growing up in poverty. Too many of us are living in cold homes, skipping meals, and falling behind on rent while Scotland’s 20 richest families enjoy more wealth than the bottom thirty per cent of the population combined. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC) recently warned that we face a “brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future”. But there is a growing wave of support to redesign our economy so it delivers what matters most to us.

We are seeking to recruit two people to join our Board of Trustees. No previous board experience is required.

We are interested to hear from anyone who:

  • Is passionate about the need for economic system change 
  • Has a good understanding of the issues facing our economy, society and natural environment 
  • You should be confident that you can make a valuable contribution to our work and comfortable with working at Board level. However, prior Board experience is not a requirement
  • Is able to think strategically 
  • Is good at building relationships and works effectively as part of a team (with an ability to challenge constructively)
  • Can provide leadership/championship
  • Shares our values as set out in our strategy
  • Skills in business and financial management are desirable but not essential.

The role:

The Board plays a vital role delivering WEAll Scotland’s strategy: Trustees support a dynamic but small core team and act as ambassadors of the charity.  Board members will be appointed for an initial period of up to three years with potential for extension. The commitment required is a minimum of one day per quarter (attending Board meeting and preparation). We would also expect trustees to take an active role and interest in the charity beyond attending meetings, for example by attending public events on behalf of WEAll and by taking on pieces of work for and on behalf of the Board. There is no remuneration, however all necessary travel and accommodation expenses will be reimbursed.

We acknowledge that people from a number of communities are underrepresented in our team and in the wider movement of those seeking systemic economic change and the charity sector in general, and we’re committed to addressing this. If you believe you would bring greater diversity to our team, we’re keen to hear from you. We will assist with childcare costs or other duties that may prevent candidates from attending an interview. 

How to apply:

If you feel you have the passion, experience and commitment please send a letter/email setting out why you are interested in the role and your CV to The closing date for applications is 29th August.

For more information about WEAll Scotland please see our recently published strategy.

Today, we’re publishing our new organisational strategy which sets out the change we want to see in Scotland and how we plan to achieve it.

This strategy details how we will work with others to create an unstoppable momentum towards a Wellbeing Economy, one which ensures that everyone can live with dignity, experience fairness and connection and participate in the decisions that affect them while we protect the health of our planet.

We will build a diverse network of allies who are playing their part to deliver a Wellbeing Economy at different levels of society. Together we will:

  • Change the public conversation about the purpose and direction of the economy
  • Amplify examples of promising practices which show Wellbeing Economy thinking in action
  • Advocate to influence economic policy at the national and local levels
  • Collaborate with a particular emphasis on business practice and ownership models, influencing national economic policy and local economies.

To redesign our economy we’ll need to work together like never before. Your support and friendship will be crucial.

Review by Jack Santa BarbaReview by Jack Santa Barbara, Ph.D. 

New Zealand WEALL Hub

Everyone in the Wellbeing Economy movement has an intellectual indebtedness to the work of Herman Daly, often cited as the Father of Ecological Economics. Peter A. Victor’s biography of Professor Daly celebrates the man and his ideas, and provides an excellent and handy summary of Daly’s transformative ideas.

Daly’s economic writing spans six decades and provides a rigorous conceptual framework for a new model of economic thought. One of the main features of Daly’s work is that he reformulates economic thought in terms of the natural sciences and ethical theory. This is in sharp contrast to the dominant economic model which is based on a series of assumptions, almost all of which can be demonstrated to be false, and which ignores the natural sciences and ethics almost entirely.

Interestingly, Daly began his career as a classical economist, obtaining a PhD in economics from Vanderbilt University in the mid 1960 ‘s . His decision to study undergraduate economics arose from his broad interests in both science and the humanities, and he saw economics as a social science that would allow him to combine these interests. He quickly came to realize that mainstream neoclassical economics had no scientific basis, and also ignored human values beyond individual self-interest. He came to realize that “neoclassical economics has both feet in the air: disconnected from the Earth and disconnected from Ethics,” according to Victor.

His mission in life came to be connecting the two – science and ethics – in reformulating economic thought – concepts that are central to the Wellbeing Economy. In capturing Daly’s intellectual journey, Victor gives us some helpful insights about how it is possible to question basic mainstream assumptions and move beyond their limitations. Whether or not it was Victor’s intent, he has provided a bit of a case study in how to change a dominant and dangerous paradigm- useful lessons for serious activists.

Peter Victor does a very nice job of connecting seemingly disparate events in Herman’s early life with his later theoretical contributions; Herman’s experience of polio as a youth leading to his acceptance of limits, his exposure to poverty during a teenage trip to Mexico, and religious upbringing, leading to his lifelong concern for social justice.

Even more impressively, Victor identifies Daly’s major conceptual contributions and summarizes their evolution in a very succinct and digestible form. The focus of the book is clearly on Daly’s ideas, but we also learn enough about Herman as a person to justify his reputation as “a warm, mild-mannered, strong –willed man willing to ask awkward questions.”

There are many concepts introduced and developed by Daly that are relevant to a Wellbeing Economy which are not always explicitly linked to Daly’s works. This is unfortunate, as Daly’s rigorous thinking and ethical perspective provides strong theoretical foundations for many alternative approaches to the current neoclassical economic paradigm. Anyone involved in the Wellbeing Economy would be well advised to become familiar with Daly’s work. His theoretical rigour and clarity of thinking will strengthen the kinds of activism that will make real change. Engaging in Wellbeing work without a background in Daly’s ideas is a bit like crossing a busy motorway with horse blinkers on.

Peter Victor has made it easy to access Daly’s theories about how an economy should function to achieve both ecological and social goals, as well as economic ones. In addition to covering some aspects of Herman’s early life and the major influences on his approach to economics, most of the book reviews the scientific and moral underpinnings of ecological economics. There are chapters on Philosophy, ethics and religion; Economics as a life science; Scale, distribution and allocation; Measuring the economy; What’s wrong with economic growth; Steady state economics (including attacks from both classical and heterodox thinkers and rebuttals); Population, migration and immigration; Money and banking; Globalization, internationalization and free trade.

Daly’s thinking about these issues are covered in his numerous books and papers and develop over time. Victor provides a great service in bringing these concepts into well-organized chapters, showing how Daly’s interest in the history of economic thought builds on the work of others, and adds his own contributions. Victor also helpfully elucidates where Daly’s work ends and what additional contributions are needed.

Because so many of Daly’s ideas are unorthodox in mainstream economic circles, much of his work has either been ignored or attacked by prominent mainstream economists. There have been several famous debates between Daly and prominent mainstream economists over the years, and the book makes it easy to understand both sides of these debates and where a sensible resolution lies. Daly’s logic and values always come out the winner.

Heterodox critiques of Daly’s work have also been made – for example, from both Marxist and degrowth economists. Some degrowth thinkers have attacked Daly for relying on markets for efficient allocation of resources, for example. Victor clearly points out how these critiques totally miss Daly’s assertion that efficient market allocation can only occur if both scale and distribution are first addressed. Daly insists that there is an ordering to policy priorities: first ecological scale must be addressed; the physical size of the economy must remain within planetary boundaries. There are limits to economic growth in terms of material throughput. It is only when this ecological limit has been settled that the second policy priority can be addressed – distribution. How can the pie be divided fairly, rather than how can we keep growing the pie so that everyone can have a bigger piece? Once these priorities have been assured, only then the market can become an efficient means of allocating resources. This is a very different role for the market compared to its central role in our current system.

Daly correctly points out that the neoclassical economic insistence on continuous economic growth is not only destructive to ecological systems, but is also an excuse for avoiding the issue of fair distribution. The market on its own cannot adequately address either scale or fair distribution.

Daly’s insistence on limiting economic growth in terms of material throughput is certainly counter to mainstream economics. Daly points out how increasing material throughput (producing more things for people to use) might have made sense in an “empty world,” but is destructive and dangerous in a “full world” of people and human artefacts. Daly’s interest in the history of economic thought helps us understand how we got here, and where we need to go next.

One of the many strengths of Daly’s theories is that he not only provides a deep critique of mainstream economics, and puts it in a helpful historical perspective, but he also presents a framework for evolving economics to the next level. A steady state economy is Daly’s answer to a full world economy, and again, Victor does a great job of summarizing the main features of a steady state economy and the policy instruments that could make it work. Victor has himself contributed to this evolution by demonstrating that a complex economy such as Canada’s can be managed with the right policies, but without growth.

The steady state economy is often misunderstood as a dead end without continued economic growth. But Daly is clear that while material throughput must be brought within planetary boundaries (a quantitative limit), there is no end to the qualitative improvements that can be made in human wellbeing, some of which can be provided by economic activity. A steady state economy can be dynamic and contribute to human wellbeing in many meaningful ways.

Daly’s unorthodox ideas have resulted in his being rejected by mainstream economists, and sometimes personally attacked. Even his family has felt the abuse sometimes directed at him. Nevertheless, he has received many international awards for his thinking and contributions to many movements, some of which may be unaware of the source of their ideas. Daly’s ideas have received widespread support by groups interested in alternative economic systems. His textbook on Ecological Economics with Josh Farley is currently used in several universities around the world, and has been translated into several languages (including Chinese) to further broaden his influence.

Victor’s book points out how some mainstream economists have taken up some of Daly’s ideas and presented them as their own without any acknowledgment of Daly. The book also points out how some new economic thinking such as Raworth’s Doughnut Economics has popularized Daly’s thinking and moved it closer to the mainstream.

Despite active mainstream resistance and rejection of Daly’s work, his ideas about economics for a full world have had widespread impacts. We are seeing more questions about the merits of continued economic growth in the media, ecological overshoot is also mentioned more often, and even the idea of a steady state economy is being explicitly attacked by mainstream economists – a sure sign of increased recognition.

One of the organizations focusing on the steady state idea is the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE), a Washington D.C. based NGO, founded and led by Brian Czech, demonstrating the same tenacity for the urgent promotion of a new economic paradigm that Daly models so well.

Daly’s ideas are critically important to a Wellbeing Economy. His theories, his historical perspectives, his rigorous arguments, his responses to critiques of his ideas, as well as his clear moral positioning, are powerful gems to be learned and used in the struggle for an ecologically sustainable and morally just society. Peter Victor has done both Daly and the rest of us a major service in providing an excellent summary of Daly’s ideas in a well written reference book for activists’ libraries.

Herman Daly’s Economics for a Full World: His Life and Ideas is available to purchase here.

What if making the transition from an economy for a dying world to an economy for a thriving world isn’t just about education, policy changes, and raising awareness, but also requires raising human consciousness?  Is there a spiritual component to life, including the human experience, that can be activated to accelerate widespread adoption of a wellbeing economy model?  There is in fact, an increasingly robust interfaith movement for climate and environmental action.  Earlier this year the interfaith Sacred Season of Climate Justice pulled together faith organizations from across the globe to take a stand and use their platforms to take action, and demand action from world leaders.  As systems and old norms destabilize faith communities are likely to become increasingly important vehicles for change and community-building.  The faith and environment action movement is very new to Wellbeing Economy concepts and there is an opportunity for powerful partnerships to be formed. 

Join our member Cylvia Hayes on 28 July 2022 at 4 p.m. UTC to explore this topic. Cylvia Hayes is a writer, speaker and teacher in the areas of economic system change and the Living World, and personal/spiritual development. Cylvia is founder and CEO of 3EStrategies and Cylvia Hayes Enterprises, founder of The ReThink, and former faculty in the Sustainability Department College of Agriculture, Oregon State University. She is also the former First Lady of Oregon and an award-winning environmental and anti-poverty activist.  Cylvia is author of, When Life Blows Up: A Guide to Peace, Power and Reinvention.  She is certified through the Tony Robbins – Chloe Madanes Strategic Coaching Institute. She is a minister in training with Unity Worldwide Ministries and currently serves as an elected member of the Unity Worldwide Ministries Earth Care Core Team.

A blog to mark the 2022 reprinting of Richard Wilkinson’s
Poverty & Progress: an ecological model of economic growth (1973)

The early Seventies saw the take-off of the modern environmental movement, with the first Earth Day celebrated in 1970, and the publication of some classics of environmental thinking: of A Blueprint for Survival, The Limits to Growth and Small is Beautiful.  These books captured widespread attention and helped the movement to flourish, grounding it in serious, but accessible, scholarship.

Also published to critical acclaim in 1973, Poverty & Progress was Richard Wilkinson’s first book. Ahead of its time, the book set forward an argument that environmental constraints of population growth and scarce resources have, throughout history, been the real driving force behind economic development. 

Renowned economist and philosopher, Professor Kenneth Boulding, welcomed the book with these words:

“By a happy coincidence I had been reading Malthus’s First Essay on Population only a week before (this) remarkable little book came into my hands….the similarity struck me with immediate pleasure…Wilkinson has the almost intuitive appreciation of complexity that the classical economists had but that, alas, has been replaced in this day when corn and wheat have been replaced by x and y“. 

Poverty & Progress is re-issued by Routledge in July 2022 and to accompany its re-issue, Richard shares his thoughts on its resonance for our current environmental crisis.

Scarcity & Growth

Written by: Richard Wilkinson

The wheel is often taken as if it were an exemplar of the inventions that gave rise to progress; but if you live in an untamed environment without roads, you soon realise that a wheel is not such a good idea: you are better off with a packhorse than a wheeled cart. We constantly fail to understand how changes in the ecological context in which our economic systems function have shaped innovation throughout the course of development. 

People imagine that the history of economic development is the history of human attempts to improve the quality of life.  We assume that we invented new ways of doing things because they were better than the old ones.  But when you look more closely, that does not stand up. Economic development is instead the history of how we are forced to intervene ever more deeply into natural processes in order to divert a larger part of what nature produces to support humanity.  

I set out this perspective in a book called Poverty and Progress, first published in 1973, which, after almost 50 years, has just been reprinted. It was subtitled “An ecological model of economic development” because it showed how economic development came out of an almost continuous succession of problems forcing us to exploit our environment in new and more intensive ways as our demands on it increased. The only way of avoiding that treadmill was to control population growth, as early foragers did, so avoiding outgrowing the constraints of their environment, and living in what I then called ‘ecological equilibrium’.

As prehistoric hunters and gatherers, humans lived on whatever came most easily to hand – the plants and animals naturally available around them.  They didn’t develop agriculture earlier because clearing forest, planting, weeding and harvesting is a lot more work than foraging in a plentiful environment.  As a modern San forager said, “Why should we plant when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?”  Early hunters and gatherers were eventually pushed into agriculture by climate change and growing population densities that led to scarcities in what they had hunted and gathered.  The first and least arduous form of agriculture was ‘slash and burn’: after burning off the forest cover, you plant in soft, fertile, leaf-mould soil which you simply abandon as soon as soil fertility declines.  But as population densities slowly increased, methods had to be intensified: instead of leaving land to reforest, it had to be kept in cultivation and soil fertility maintained artificially.  The resulting dense grass and weed cover required the heavy additional work of ploughing.  It’s no wonder that people didn’t take to agriculture earlier or that when they did, as the archaeological record shows, agriculturalists were shorter and less healthy than their foraging predecessors. ‘Progress’ was something we had to be forced into. 

The industrial revolution came out of a similar dynamic.  As population numbers increased, so the pressure on the land increased. Almost everything depended on the land.  People fed themselves from the land, they clothed themselves from wool from sheep on pasture, the price of horse transport varied with the price of hay, and the supply of firewood depended on the diminishing forests. Land prices rose under the pressure of competing uses. The British industrial revolution was essentially a solution to this problem.  Cotton was imported to supplement wool for clothing, firewood was replaced with coal, and canals were built which allowed a single horse to pull a barge carrying 50 times the load it could pull in a cart. As waterpower sites for mills became scarce, they, like horse transport, were supplemented by steam engines. And seizing colonies was seen at the time partly as a solution to the same need for additional resources. 

Fundamentally, economic development is simply the escape route for societies caught in the ecological pincers of scarce resources and population growth. The basic dynamic, of having to intervene increasingly deeply in the natural environment in order to divert an ever-greater proportion of its productivity to human consumption, could hardly be clearer than it is now – as we struggle to cope with the environmental crisis. It looks as if it won’t be long before we are replacing meat with growing quantities of protein from insects, from processed fungus and from meat grown in cell cultures.  And we will do this not because the new foods are preferable to what they replaced, but because we have to. As we overfish the oceans, the natural supply of fish is increasingly supplemented by fish farming and by eating species of fish previously ignored.  Similarly, as we are pushed to develop more nuclear power to cover periods when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we will do this because we have to, like it or not.  The same is true of the rapid growth in our use of replacements for timber. Although they are less attractive, we increasingly use chipboard and other composites made from materials such as fibre and cement.  Genuine wood has become too expensive.  Similarly, where once leather was regarded as the best material for everything from shoes to handbags, it was replaced, first by plastics, and now by other unwanted materials including everything from fungus and fruit peelings to bones and fat from slaughterhouses. And more often than not, the substitutes are made to look like the real leather they replaced.

One of the effects of these processes of substitution was aptly summed up by Jack Fisher, the professor of economic history at LSE from whom I learned most as a student.  He wrote “…it is one of the eternal verities of history that as societies become wealthy they are no longer able to afford pleasures that were well within their reach when they were poor.” 

Another aspect of the dynamics driving economic development explains why production has to be increasingly mechanised and automated. Take the development of clothing materials as an example. The first clothing materials were the skins of animals that were eaten. When, in agricultural societies, that became inadequate to meet everyone’s needs, people were obliged to develop textiles from natural fibres such as flax, cotton, wool, and bark.  The need to collect and prepare the fibres before spinning and weaving dramatically increased the work involved in making clothing. Later we see the development of entirely artificial fibres from mineral sources (largely oil), which replaced the organic fibres from land-based crops or animals, so freeing more land for food production. Much the same is also true of metal working.  With sharp tools you can work wood by hand, but working metals requires the addition of mechanical power and often high temperatures. This pattern is seen in almost every sector, including the chemical industry. At each stage, the manufacturing process becomes more difficult and further removed from anything that can be done by hand. The more deeply we have to intervene in natural systems to divert resources to human needs, the greater the processing task that has to be done, and the more sophisticated the tools and machinery needed to provide a person’s subsistence.  The productive task is taken out of human hands and becomes increasingly mechanised and automated because, by its very nature, it is beyond what we are capable of unaided.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. To understand innovation, you have to understand how the problem it was designed to solve arose in the particular historical period that it did. During much of the long history of economic development it was population growth and occasionally climate change that meant we outgrew our environmental resource base and had to discover how to exploit new resources, or old ones more intensively.  When, in 1798, Thomas Malthus published his Essay on the Principle of Population, and argued that population pressure would keep living standards permanently to a minimum, he failed to see the eventual benefits of the industrial revolution. 

Fifty years ago, the Limits to Growth report to the Club of Rome, pointed out that our industrial dependence on non-renewable resources meant that we would, sooner or later, face new scarcity problems. The authors gave less attention to the feedback problems – including the climate crisis, sea level rises and air pollution – that have become major threats. But problems of resource shortages, particularly of some metals and rare earth elements, will indeed hamper the production of enough wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle batteries. In the 50 years since that report, world population has doubled. Time will tell whether science and innovation will come up with adequate solutions to these problems. 

Rather than failing to change, the great achievement of our hunter-gatherer ancestors was that they avoided the need for change, and they did that by keeping the demands they imposed on their environments within sustainable limits. Key to that, as the evidence shows, were the cultural practices which prevented population growth and enabled most hunter-gatherer societies to live remarkably healthily. Indeed, with few wants, they have been called “the original affluent societies”.

World population is now about 7.6 billion – probably more than 1000 times greater than at the eve of the Neolithic Revolution. Politics permitting, reproductive technology now makes it much easier to control the birth rate. But although the rate of population increase is slowing, estimates are that it will reach close to 10 billion by the end of this century. The pressure on the environment depends however on population numbers multiplied by the level of consumption per person. If everyone lived like Americans, we’d need at least another four planets. The CO2 emissions of the world’s richest 1 percent are estimated to be more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity. 

It is therefore the numbers of the rich that we most need to control. Average income and consumption levels have roughly doubled in many rich countries during the last half century, dramatically hastening the environmental crisis but bringing little or no improvement in happiness and wellbeing. Growing inequality has intensified status seeking behaviour, so adding to wasteful status consumption and harming wellbeing. As possessions are used increasingly as indicators of prestige and status, they intensify the planet-destroying demand for more ‘stuff’.  

Studies have repeatedly shown that key determinants of happiness, health and wellbeing, are the quality of our social relationships. But as widening income differences have increased the numbers both of the super-rich and of the relatively poor, they have also damaged the quality of social relations, leading to a decline in trust, in community life, and to more in violence. 

In these circumstances, the fact that the governments of affluent societies still fail to recognise that they must concentrate on increasing wellbeing rather than on the size of their economies, shows how myopic we’ve become. Our situation is all the more dire because every aspect of the transition, particularly from fossil fuels, will require massive new investments and so cause yet more economic growth. 

However, steep reductions in inequality will not only lead to increases in health and happiness, they will also make the transition to sustainability very much easier. (The evidence is outlined in my recent blog and a ‘deep dive’ chapter, both written for the Club or Rome.)  When, in Poverty and Progress, I outlined long-term economic development as a series of changes forced by ecological problems, I did not discuss the societies which collapsed because they failed to find adequate solutions. But there are now archaeological studies suggesting that more egalitarian societies may always have proved more resilient to the environmental difficulties that led elsewhere to downfall. 

Richard Wilkinson, Poverty and Progress: an ecological model of economic development.

Hardback ISBN 978-1-032-30703-9

Ebook ISBN 978-1-003-30635-1 available from 1st July