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from GDP and purchasing power to well-being and happiness

December 1, 2010


Last week, David Cameron announced that the UK government is no longer exclusively interested in economic growth and increases in purchasing power to gauge the country’s progress but will also look at its people’s happiness. A quote in the Guardian read that ”it’s time that we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on BWB – General Well Being”. The Office of National Statistics leads the debate on the National Wellbeing Project and is responsible for the public consultation to shape the final measures.

Although critized by many as impractical and airy-fairy, the notion that money is not all that matters goes back a long way in both academic and policy debates about the measurement of a country and its people’s prosperity and living standards. Sen’s capability approach might be one of the most well-known theories that questions the idea that the measurement of someone’s financial means captures all there is to say about someone’s well-being or opportunities in life but there are many others. And examples are not only limited to the academic arena – think of the Gross Happiness Index in Bhutan.

It is interesting to see that despite the wealth of discussion and debate on this topic since the second half of the last century, it now seems to gain momentum within the policy debate in the UK. National measures of well-being are not popular amongst politicians and policy makers – a widely heard argument is that they are not policy amenable and that it’s results can not be attributed to specific policies. Many have questioned David Cameron’s timing for introducing this measurement now – what is he trying to prove? Nevertheless, being a strong supporter of measures of well-being and opportunities beyond monetary terms, I welcome this iniative and look forward to see how it is being taken forward.

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