In support for these revolutionary new measures of progress we have an unlikely series of bedfellows, including the prime minister; progressive business leaders like Ian Cheshire and Ian Marchant CEOs of B&Q Kingfisher and SSE; Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the civil service; the Treasury; NGOs and leading think tanks like the New Economics Foundation (nef).
This ONS review comes at a time where, sadly, politics in Britain is largely failing to recognise the need for a radical updating of capitalism. The Right blame the state for ‘breaking society’; the Left blamed laissez-faire capitalism, with little idea of an alternative, and then encouraged it anyway. We need to admit ‘it’s the market stupid’ – our economics are what lie at the heart of our planetary, monetary and wellbeing malaises.
At the heart of this is a need for a new macroeconomics with people and planet not wealth and growth as its focus. The field of Wellbeing Economics is fast moving and game-changing, it is at the vanguard of debate about the updating of values, capitalism and macro-economics.
It is where the ecological economics of Professor Herman Daly meets the work of Nobel Laureate welfare economist Amartya Sen, the positive psychology of Professor Martin Seligman, and that of Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s hedonic psychology and behavioural economics.
Similarly, in the UK, Professor Tim Jackson is breaking new ground around Prosperity Without Growth and taking a focus on ‘wellbeing as prosperity’ to its obvious conclusions around challenging our growth obsessed economics 1.0. So the space ONS is venturing into, at the behest of the prime minister, is brave and potentially radical.
Because of this, a new economics is emerging that questions the meaning of prosperity and posits that instead of wealth and growth we ought instead to focus on the growth of wellbeing and flourishing.
Such thinking comes at a time when significant proportions of society, called by some cultural-creatives, are once again tuning in to Thoreau’s thinking in Walden that: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can do without.”
A number of politicians, interestingly many from the new-right, are tuning in to these new cultural norms and framing their new politics in terms of wellbeing and community rather than wealth and individualism. President Sarkozy asked Joseph Stiglitz to lead a policy review on these issues and it was as a result of David Cameron’s own Quality of Life Review, which I was Director of, that he set the Office of National Statistics the task of measuring and developing policy around wellbeing.
It is good to see the prime minister has not taken his foot off the accelerator despite the recession, which could have made him fearful of continuing to push this agenda. And Mr Cameron clearly does support this agenda. Although wellbeing has not been the subject of any recent speeches I expect he will return to it soon, and just back in November last year he vociferously supported the ongoing ONS work.
The recent results from the ONS national survey support years of research by academics, Nobel Laureates and think tanks like nef. What really matters to people is not money per se but relationships, time spent with friends and family, time spent in nature and a healthy environment, security and flow in work, equality and good health.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance merely makes a mockery of citizens as well as themselves by denying this evidence.
With the Treasury and the bible of the civil service, the Green Book, now taking wellbeing seriously as an additional lens for policy, it looks like we are entering an exciting new age which will pay dividends for both people and planet.
So next time you hear someone sneer about things like the clumsy ‘Big Society’ narrative just remember, it was Mr Cameron not Mr Blair or Mr Brown who had the guts to start to update our economics in what could be the beginning of a revolution in the way we live. Time now for the left to catch up with this debate.