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By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

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

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

So, what’s WEAll doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership built on ideas

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

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

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

 

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

Donate today to help make it happen.

The OECD has convening power. It has influencing power. And it has the power of its policy advice. It can prescribe changes that are listened to the same way a patient listens to their doctors advice.

So when the OECD’s regular gatherings on measuring wellbeing and shaping policy show signs of moving away from the cosy ‘GDP and beyond’ mantra and the non-system-challenging focus on treatment, then it is worth taking notice.

There’s a new regime in town.

In Paris over one hundred people spent two days hearing from the governments leading the effort to embed a focus on wellbeing into policy agenda. By the end, people were joking that the audience must have ‘framework fatigue’.

Diverse governments, from the UAE to Iceland, from Scotland to Jersey, from France to New Zealand, from Finland to Paraguay set out their efforts to shape policy-making – and, crucially – budgeting, in accordance with promotion and enabling of wellbeing. Discussion was about taking this seriously, changing planning and spending accordingly: the OECD Secretary-General told the audience that: “if it ain’t in the budget, it ain’t really a priority”.

Tensions between different conceptions of wellbeing were, thank goodness, not swept under the carpet as they often are in such discussions. People recognised that a focus on multidimensional wellbeing and the drivers of wellbeing was not the same as rallying around a single number measuring subjective self-reported wellbeing.

But what is done with any measure matters: Professor Jeff Sachs warned that looking at narrow measures means narrow perspective: “the stock market rising”, he said “but US life expectancy is falling, [the US has a] suicide and opioid epidemic – our country is in crisis, but we don’t know it’s a crisis because we don’t look at the right data; this question is not even asked”.

Speaking of drugs, Sachs (channelling WEAll Ambassador Robert Costanza) likened the prevailing money and growth focus to an addiction: “making money is addictive and we have an addiction”. This was reinforced by Martine Durand, OECD Chief Statistician and Director of the Statistics and Data Directorate who said “GDP was never meant to measure wellbeing; it’s been abused and now we’re addicted to it – need to go to a clinic to stop this addiction”. Fortunately, the doctors on duty are willing to look the patient in the eye and tell them some hard truths.

One of these is grappling with the need for both of the ‘two S.C.s’ as I described them. This first is a focus survival and coping – treating people whose wellbeing is low. This is, of course a humane response. It is also not enough in the face of an inhumane economy that is the root cause of so much anxiety and stress, to both people and to planet.

Hence the need for the second ‘S.C.’: system change that asks why people’s wellbeing is low and what changes in the economic set up need to be undertaken in response? Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff challenged delegates to think beyond celebration of amelioration: “Even the existence of social safety nets tells us people are falling and we need to catch them. But how do we keep them from falling?”

In terms of system change, there was also a frank discussion about the relevance of a growth orientated agenda in the richest countries. Of course ecological economists and others have been questioning this for years, but to have senior members of the policy making establishment state that growth doesn’t matter for quality of life in GDP-rich countries (asserting it is “irrelevant for rich country’s wellbeing”) and to even question why the OECD would maintain a programme under the heading of ‘Inclusive Growth’ seemed to be a new high point for the post-growth conversation.

Finally, an impatience with the disconnect between what the wellbeing community has been measuring and saying for years and slow progress in shifting the economic agenda was apparent. Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, opened the conference by saying the world is “well past the point when a lack of data is an excuse – [now the] need is to rationalise and choose and targets which are the relevant indicators”.

If these two days were a heartening stock-take on the state of the debate on wellbeing measures and policy agendas, their timing was just as useful: Finland is currently President of the EU and has made the ‘economy of wellbeing’ it’s flagship agenda. At times, the Finnish contribution seemed a little out of place, better suited to a gathering 5 years ago in that it emphasised the business case for wellbeing and asserting that if governments boost wellbeing that will boost growth. Fortunately, if the rest of the OECD conference was anything to go by, the thinking has moved on and the question is now “what can growth do for wellbeing?”. Not the other way around.

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

Last week, the Prime Minister‘s Committee on measurements for Well-being in Iceland proposed a framework of 39 indicators that cover social, economic and environmental dimensions of quality of life.

These indicators are intended to complement traditional economic measures, such as GDP, and monitor trends in people’s wellbeing. They are meant to look at the broader picture and inform government policy formulation. The indicators are linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, they are based on official statistics and allow for international comparison. Developing such indicators is a step towards ensuring common understanding of what factors make our lives better.

According to a survey commissioned by the committee, the general public in Iceland views health (i.e. good health and access to healthcare) to be the most significant factor in quality of life. This was followed by relationships (i.e. with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues), housing (secure housing, cost of housing, supply of housing) and making a living (income and assets).

Kartín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister, introduced the proposed indicators in the Inclusive Growth and Well-being Symposium in Reykjavík on 16 September. Other speakers at the Symposium were Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Derek Mackay, Finance and Economy Secretary of Scotland, Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD and Dr. Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Professor at the University of Iceland and WEAll Ambassador.

You can watch a recording of the Symposium and see the full report from the committee on the Icelandic Government’s website here.

 

This piece was first published on OpenDemocracy

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7 Ideas for the G7

Economic policies to tackle inequality and deliver wellbeing

By Amanda Janoo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Adopt alternative progress indicators to GDP:

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

  1. Reform international economic organizations to promote wellbeing economies:

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

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

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

  1. Global Competition Regulation:

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

5. Create citizens wealth funds:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Download the full briefing paper here

Image: Lafargue Raphael/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

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.