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By WEAll Aotearoa Country Lead Gareth Hughes

Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s fourth Wellbeing Budget continued the focus on wellbeing and responded to social and environmental failings – but did it address them?

A transformation is still needed to go from Wellbeing Budgets to a Wellbeing Economy – one that delivers wellbeing by default, not one where it needs to be added on.

After two years of Covid dominating Government spending decisions, Grant Robertson pitched the 2022 Budget as “less of a crisis budget” and a return to the wellbeing framework. What the country saw this week was very much a Wellbeing Budget but one that responded to failing rather than addressing them.

Since the first Wellbeing Budget in 2019 the Labour-led Government has approached the annual process to put together the national books differently from their predecessors. A wellbeing analysis was applied across all spending, and government departments were asked to leave silos and work together on joint proposals.

With a message of kindness and a focus on child poverty this approach received international plaudits in a world hungry for inspiring, positive news.

The 2022 Budget continued this focus, with Treasury’s updated Living Standards Framework providing the behind the scenes structure. Robertson’s focus in this Budget was health, cost of living issues – especially for the ‘squeezed middle’ – and climate change. Big ticket items were a record amount spent on a buckling health system, a temporary $350 payment for around two million New Zealanders and $2.9 billion of Emissions Trading Scheme revenue recycled on climate projects.

In Parliament National moved the inevitable amendment to oppose the Budget and labelled it the ‘Backwards Budget’, instead pushing for tax cuts. New Zealand is already in the bottom half of the OECD for tax as a percentage of GDP and a tax cut, especially one targeted at higher earners, would simply increase inequality while placing further pressure on public services.

This Budget contained many good measures, including rectifying a historic child support injustice.

However it continued the incremental, slow approach to change that won’t substantially alter persistent poverty, wealth inequality or the biodiversity and climate crises.

While National’s Christopher Luxon railed against so-called wasteful spending, this Budget was no radical dagger aimed at the heart of Neoliberal economics.

The parliamentary debate is always full of hyperbole but I believe a reasonable and constructive critique of the Budget is that it focused on failure demand.

This is the concept where the Government pays costs which are responding to the damage created by the current economic system. Current settings aren’t delivering a socially-secure, high-wage, low-carbon economy so vast sums are spent addressing symptoms and avoiding causes.

Take the biggest new line of spending – health. More than $11 billion was allocated over the forecast period – a huge sum – spent to patch holes and pay debt from historic underinvestment. Fixing damage.

In the climate space, nearly $340m will be spent looking for agricultural fixes to address the failure that farmers don’t pay the cost of their emissions.

The temporary $350 cost-of-living payment for individuals earning under $70k (except beneficiaries) offers short-term relief but doesn’t solve the systemic problem that Kiwis work some of the longest hours for some of the lowest wages and pay some of the highest costs of living in the developed world.

Half price public transport for Community Service Card holders and higher low-income dental grants help – but only respond to the failure that New Zealanders are not guaranteed liveable incomes above the poverty line.

Spending on motels for emergency shelter, the human and health and costs of diseases from unsafe housing, purchasing international carbon credits to avoid reducing emissions at home are all other examples of costly remedial measures from avoidable damage.

Economically New Zealand is doing reasonably well compared to similar countries in these volatile times. The growth rate is high coming out of Covid, government debt is comparatively small and the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 1986. With money to spend, the Government has been able to respond to some areas of failure demand but not all, by any means. A rental crisis, a housing crisis, an inequality crisis, a poverty crisis, a biodiversity crisis, and a climate crisis still stalk Aotearoa.

Wellbeing Budgets have been a welcome innovation but the next step surely must be addressing the root causes of social and environmental failure and building a Wellbeing Economy. A Wellbeing Economy is structured so that the economy serves people and planet, rather than being geared to maximise profit only through economic growth at the expense of the planet. It is designed to deliver quality of life with dignity, purpose, fairness and participation whilst caring for nature.

We need to do more than respond to costly avoidable damages arising from our current system. In 2017 Jacinda Ardern in her first speech as Prime Minister said: “This will be a Government of transformation”. With one Budget left before the next election I hope the Government will deliver on this aspiration.

This was originally published on Newsroom

Kia ora ngā mihi nui kia koutou katoa. I whānau mai au i te taha o te awa o Tairawhiti. I raro i te maru o te maunga o Kaiti. He uri ahau no Wales, no Scotland. Kei te noho au kei Ōtepoti. Ko Gareth Hughes toku ingoa. Tena koutou katoa.

I’m Gareth Hughes, the new Country Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand and I wanted to introduce myself. Above is a little about where I have come from in Te Reo Māori, the first language in New Zealand. I’ve spent my entire adult life campaigning for progressive causes as a campaigner at Greenpeace, as a Green MP and an activist. I describe my background as banging on the outside doors of Parliament as an activist then banging-on from the inside. I’ve taken part in non-violent direct action, like once infamously being arrested dressed as Ronald McDonald, passed laws and led campaigns that helped end offshore oil exploration and shark finning in New Zealand. I’ve always felt a passion and a calling for social justice and to protect our planet and I’ve tried to pull all the levers to achieve it.

After working on the symptoms for so long I am excited to now focus on the source of so many of the problems we face. I believe the most important mission facing us is working together to build an economy that works for people and the planet.

In 2020 I ended a decade-long career as a Member of Parliament. I am proud of what I achieved there but I was also frustrated how often the focus was on the short term, policy tinkering or debating what type of ambulance should be at the bottom of the cliff. Things like climate change, homelessness, poverty and inequality were seen as if they were bugs in the system when in fact they were consequences of a system that needs to change fast. My final speech in Parliament was a challenge to all political parties for transformational change – this is what I’ll be focused on in this new role. As such, I have stepped away from political party membership so I can advocate effectively to all parties.

In my valedictory speech I ended on a note of optimism for the future. “Fortunately for us in Aotearoa, we have an alternative value system focused on collective wellbeing, long-term thinking, and a strong connection to nature in mātauranga Māori. I believe if we truly became a Te Tiriti o Waitangi – respecting nation, we could escape the fatal embrace of short-term, individualistic, environmentally damaging thinking that has dominated our politics.” 

In my office I used to have a poster of the first whole image of the Earth taken from space hung on my wall. It was a reminder we need to operate within planetary boundaries which is so beautifully communicated in the Doughnut Economy. In the last year I have been researching and writing a biography of the late Jeanette Fitzsimons who was one of the pioneers of challenging infinite growth on a finite planet and GDP as a measure of success in New Zealand. This deep-dive into her work and the wider thinking that has occurred by many people over multiple decades has further inspired me to focus on a wellbeing economy. These are well-established ideas and the move towards them is now urgent.

I’m also a Dad to two kids, Arlo 14 and Zoe 11 and partner to my wife Meghan. We live in paradise, next to the sea in a small village on the Otago Peninsula in the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island. I love travel but I want to see the world in a low-carbon way so in the last five years I’ve become passionate about sailing. Most weekends you’ll find me on my yacht Avanti.

I am proud to join the New Zealand Hub in this new phase, as it becomes an established organisation with full-time staff, and to continue to expand on the more recent work of our WEAll volunteers in New Zealand. I have a busy work plan and I’m looking forward to rolling that out and working with WEAll partners, citizens and all political parties. 

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 more just and sustainable economies for people and the planet. 

It was never intended to simply be a guidance document,  rather to transform policymaking and bring to life better outcomes for our societies.  Almost as soon as it was published, we were seeking collaborators and funding to pilot the Guide in real life settings.

The WEAll hubs and their partners in California, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland are working with community partners and local or city governments to bring the Wellbeing Economy Policy Design process to life. WEAll has also teamed up with ZOE Institute for Future-Fit Economies to collaborate on the process and evolve their groundbreaking policy portal to share learnings and successes from the pilots.

These pilot projects (which you can read more about below) are setting out to do something new. They are attempting to transform not just policy results but the process of policy making and decision making itself–to become more inclusive and democratic. They are, in the spirit of the Guide, working in radically participatory ways so that the policy design processes are not only based on the co-created visions of communities but aim to meaningfully engage those communities at every stage of the process – from deliberation to implementation.

The Guide offers a roadmap for this process, as well as many tools and case studies, which are a starting point for the pilots. However, as they evolve in the process, they are also charting new ground, and much remains unknown. WEAll is keen to learn as much as possible from their experiences, working with the hub teams to share learnings and stories that might help other communities and policymakers setting out on a similar journey. We will also develop a new version of the Guide to incorporate their experiences. 

About the pilots

California

  • WEAll California is carrying out its pilot in the city of Pomona, where the mayor is committed to championing new economic approaches.
  • Jeremy Fackenthal, Managing Director of the Institute for Ecological Civilisation and co-founder of WEAll California explains: “We’re working with local organisations in the city of Pomona to help shape a long term framework and vision for a wellbeing economy, an economy that that works for all people and for the planet, that provides fair and equitable resources and opportunities for flourishing in a holistic set of ways.” 

Canada

  • The Well-being Economies Alliance for Canada and Sovereign Indigenous Nations (WEAll Can) in Canada is focusing on the City of Toronto for its pilot, building on the foundations of “Doughnut Economics” workshops with city officials in 2021.
  • Tara Campbell, Wellbeing Economies Specialist at David Suzuki Foundation which hosts WEAll Canada, explains: “We are working directly with city officials, elected officials and city staff to socialise these ideas about wellbeing economies and generate interest. The other part of the work is building up a community oriented coalition or network that is interested in exploring these ideas, to develop wellbeing visions for the city of Toronto, to evaluate what’s already been happening, and imagine policy initiatives that could take place.”

Aotearoa/New Zealand

  • WEAll Aotearoa/New Zealand is aiming to work with community partners in three different regions.
  • Paul Dalziel, Professor of Economics at AERU, Lincoln University and co-founder of WEAll Aotearoa/New Zealand, explains: “We are talking with community groups, who are not formally part of local government themselves, but are collaborating with their local council to promote a vision around participation of people and creating economic opportunities and general wellbeing for themselves, their families, and their communities beyond what the people can achieve just on their own.”

Scotland

  • WEAll Scotland is working with Perth and Kinross Council to deliver “Love Letham”: a project which aims to bring the long term visions to life of children and young people for a flourishing future in their community of Letham.
  • Sarah Stocks, Director of Northern Star which is working as an associate of WEAll Scotland to deliver this project,  explains: “We are working with local people and decision makers together, to first understand what wellbeing means to those people, particularly children and young people in Letham, and then to try and meaningfully affect change in the way that policies are made.”

The story so far

The pilots are still in their early stages, with most of them set to deliver their first community engagement activities in January 2022.

The story that emerges from their experiences so far is one of the importance of relationships and trust as the foundation for a Wellbeing Economy policy design process.

All four pilots have found enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate amongst community partners and policy makers, and they’ve also found that the investment of time and energy required in developing these crucial relationships is considerable. Tara from WEAll Can suggested that the Guide needs a “phase 0” focused on the importance of stakeholder mapping and relationship building, which is something we’ll definitely consider!

The pilot teams reflect on the importance of relationship building and trust

Jeremy, WEAll California: “ The connections that we’ve made have been a real highlight for me. Being able to use those connections toward something that will hopefully make a lot of impact for people in the city of Pomona. So for instance, talking with Sarah McKinley [Democracy Collaborative] and picking her brain about both the positives and the pitfalls of worker owned cooperatives. Also, connections in Pomona, particularly with Latino and Latina Roundtable. Having them as a partner, and a partner who has the same vision for wellbeing and is willing to even adopt some of our language and help use it to shape the way that they talk about the economy has been really a lot of fun.”

Yannick, WEAll Can: “One of the elements of that relationship building is also inviting people not to be speaking primarily from their professional role. In the case of Toronto, the commonality of everybody is that there are residents of a big city, of Toronto. So how do you also create the space where when the elected official comes in, they’re not automatically seen as the policymaker, and that they have to respond only from their professional role as an elected official?”

Justin, WEAll Aotearoa/New Zealand: “Relationships are critical for our Māori partners. Our Indigenous partners, they wouldn’t call it networking, they would call it relationships. So that’s a really important element we’re trying to work on. Two of our three proposed partners are based on existing relationships, for example we have a hub member working with a potential partner which presents a natural collaboration.”

Sarah, WEAll Scotland: “There was quite a lot of time at the beginning, with colleagues in Perth and Kinross Council, basically trying to understand where Perth and Kinross were at. When I look back I remember it being a lot of discussions about wording, how to come up with a description of the project that would work for Perth and Kinross council as well as work for WEAll. But it was really about understanding each other’s position and where we were coming from and what we all were interested in and what we could learn from this process. 

“When we’ve gone out into the community in Letham, sometimes it wasn’t the first people that we spoke to who were actually the people that we needed to engage. But it was necessary to speak to them in order to determine who was. So it’s like a snowball effect, where you speak to someone, and then ask them to tell you who else they think you need to speak to.”

Are you interested in finding out more about the pilot projects, or using the Policy Design Guide to inform your own work? Get in touch with me at lisa@weall.org

Image: Sarah Stocks, Love Letham stall engaging with community members at Letham Christmas Market

New Zealand made headlines after announcing its first Wellbeing Budget in 2019. The country continues to lead the way in delivering wellbeing budgets, setting spending priorities to meet wellbeing goals.

Some economists continue to press for the traditional practice of developing strategies to promote economic growth. Justin Connolly is a founding member of the Aotearoa New Zealand hub of WEAll. He has responded to that criticism in a powerful article for the Newsroom

The article recognises that delivering a wellbeing economy will be hard work and will take time to deliver. This does not mean, however, we should return to the old ways. Instead, systems science can help us to deal with the complex issues of transforming to a wellbeing economy.

The article expands on this, drawing on The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. Senge has long championed a systems approach for dealing with complex problems. This approach is currently experiencing a resurgence across business and civic society.

WEAll and other global movements are also developing new insights on how to design policies to support a wellbeing economy. A good example is WEAll’s Wellbeing Economy Policy Design Guide.

Thus, New Zealand’s wellbeing budgets are part of this global movement towards wellbeing economies. They respond to the multi-faceted, inter-generational task of challenging how our economies fail to deliver wellbeing. Both for the planet and for us who live on it, now and in the future.

Justin concludes that wellbeing budgets in New Zealand will necessarily continue to evolve. So will how we measure and manage our current and future prosperity. We all are invited to engage in the discussion and help shape those future systems, recognising that this is a long-term game.

The full article can be accessed here.

New Zealand is aiming to adopt a wellbeing economy approach in its economic policy. The Government, for example, presented the world’s first Wellbeing Budget to Parliament on 30 May 2019.

Against that background, Paul Dalziel and Caroline Saunders prepared a Research Briefing in September 2020. It summarises lessons learned in the initial New Zealand experience with the wellbeing economy approach. The authors are the Deputy Director and Director of the Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit at Lincoln University, New Zealand.

You can access the Research Briefing from the Lincoln University archive here.

Kia ora!  I’m Suzy Morrissey, one of the founders of the Aoteraroa New Zealand WEAll hub, and I recently gave ‘evidence’ to a special meeting of the UK All Party Parliamentary Committee (APPG) on the Green New Deal and the APPG on Limits to Growth.

The Green New Deal APPG was established to provide a cross-party platform for the development of a transformative Green New Deal for the UK and the Limits to Growth APPG is a platform for cross-party collaboration on shared and lasting prosperity in a world of environmental, social and economic limits.  The APPG members are MPs and Peers and the session was chaired by Caroline Lucas MP and Clive Lewis MP. 

I was invited to present ‘evidence’ for the consideration of the members of the APPGs ahead of the UK budget announcement, along with Lord Adair Turner (Institute for New Economic Thinking), Miatta Fahnbulleh (New Economics Foundation), and Robert Palmer (Tax Justice UK).  The virtual session was also open to the public and over 100 people participated in the session.

In my evidence, I explained the limitations of using GDP to measure wellbeing, outlining how it ignores important elements and rewards negative behaviors.  For example, unpaid work is not included in the calculation of GDP, but the sales of weapons are.  Further, no adjustment is made for activities that negatively impact the planet, such as pollution or non-recyclable waste.

I also shared an example of an alternative approach from Aoteraroa New Zealand.  The ‘Living Standards Framework’ measures wellbeing, using a stocks and flows based economic model, and a dashboard of elements.  It draws on the OECD’s Better Life Index, with domains of current wellbeing (such as income, health, housing), and four capitals (natural, social, human, and financial and physical).  The Living Standards Framework was devised by the NZ Treasury, to improve the quality of its advice, and provide a focus on inter-generational equity. 

Shortly after the Labour-led coalition Government came into power at the end of 2017, they announced their intention to use the Living Standards Framework as a base for the world’s first ‘Wellbeing Budget’ in 2019, as well as to inform the 2018 Budget.

I worked at the NZ Treasury as Principal Advisor in the Office of the Chief Economic Advisor and was the policy and engagement lead for the Living Standards Framework.  I shared my experience of determining the current wellbeing domains and capitals and finding suitable indicators to measure them .  For example, although much of the Living Standards Framework draws from the OECD Better Life Model, we decided to include a new domain of current wellbeing called ‘cultural identity’ to measure features unique to Aotearoa (such as use of Te Reo Māori, the language of our first people).  We also included ‘time use’ because it is so important, especially for gender analysis, even though it had been ten years since a national time use survey had been conducted by Stats NZ.  Data gaps need to be highlighted so that they can be addressed.

I also discussed how the Living Standards Framework was applied by government to identify priority areas for the budget and to assess potential policies for funding.  An initial assessment of wellbeing was undertaken using the measures and then ‘bids’ for funding from the national budget were assessed against the domains and capitals they were intended to improve. 

I was delighted to be able to share Aoteraroa New Zealand’s world-leading work in bringing wellbeing economics to public policy.

Now my focus is back on building the Aoteraroa New Zealand WEAll hub and sharing the wonderful WEAll resources for policy makers and businesses on how to create a wellbeing economy.  Contact myself, Paul, or Justin (emails on the Hub page here) if you would like to get involved.

You can watch the full APPG session below or on YouTube here:


Dr Girol Karacaoglu BA MBA Bogazici, PhD Hawaii 
Professor of Policy Practice, Victoria University of Wellington

The former Chief Economist of The Treasury in New Zealand has written a book examining the processes by which wellbeing-focused public policy objectives can be established, prioritised, funded, implemented, managed, and evaluated.

Professor Girol Karacaoglu is Head of the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington and was previously New Zealand’s Chief Economist of The Treasury. Before then, he was the Chief Executive of PSIS (then Co-operative Bank of New Zealand) for nine years. His new book asks:

HOW WOULD WE DESIGN, IMPLEMENT AND EVALUATE PUBLIC POLICY IF IT WERE BASED ON OUR LOVE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS?

For the philosopher Water Kaufman, ‘I love you’ means:

I want you to live the life that you want to live.
I will be as happy as you if you do; and as unhappy as you if you don’t.

Professor Karacaoglu said that ‘wellbeing is about the ability of individuals and communities to live the lives they value – now and in the future. This is their human right. It would be extremely unjust to prevent the enjoyment of lives centred on chosen values. Preventing such injustice across generations should be the focus of a public policy that has intergenerational wellbeing as its objective.’

‘Half of the net revenue from sales of this book will be donated to The Nest Collective, which gives baby and children’s essentials to families in need’, he said.

Tuwhiri publisher Ramsey Margolis said that ‘while humanity may well come to grips with the current pandemic in the foreseeable future, ballooning inequalities and injustice threaten to shred the fabric of our societies, and the climate emergency menaces all life forms on the planet.

‘In the face of these enduring humanity-induced catastrophes, we owe a special duty of care to future generations to overcome them, and to leave our successors with a safer, fairer world in which they may thrive. We need to express our care for coming generations in many ways, from changing own personal lifestyles, to choosing political representatives who advance cogent, long-sighted policies in aid of a better world.”

Find out more and order the book via the publisher Tuwhiri

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

June 2, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: SBS World News

By Samantha Kagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog has been reposted from Happy City

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

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

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

And this trend goes beyond the headline makers.

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

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

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

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

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

Liz Zeidler

Co Founder and Chief Executive

Happy City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about the budget on the website here.

Read The Guardian article about the new budget here.

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

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s full speech here.

 

 

 

By Katherine Trebeck, Wellbeing Economy Alliance

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

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

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

Wellbeing Economy Governments

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

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

The stated objectives of WEGo are:

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

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

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

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

WEAll on the main stage

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

From Incheon into action

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

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

 

 

Members