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Chance to lead the world in wellbeing economics

Chance to lead the world in wellbeing economics

Over seventy-five years after New Zealand’s ground-breaking social security reforms of the 1930s, it is time for a major shift in how New Zealand regards the wellbeing of its people, urge the authors of a new book called Wellbeing Economics: Future Directions for New Zealand.

In the book – which is part of a series of short ‘Texts’ published by Bridget Williams Books – Professors Paul Dalziel and Caroline Saunders of Lincoln University say New Zealand has an opportunity to pioneer the next transformation in how a country improves the wellbeing of its people.

The book introduces a new framework that is emerging internationally about how we understand economic policy questions and solutions. The framework is based on cutting-edge international research.

It comes at a time when New Zealand is already taking some important steps towards a wellbeing economy. In 2009, Treasury introduced its Living Standards Framework, which assesses wellbeing beyond GDP and income measures. More recently, the government’s Better Public Services programme focuses on ten results and targets related to wellbeing.

Dalziel and Saunders say the purpose of economic activity should be to promote the wellbeing of people. Therefore, instead of measuring economic growth for its own sake, we should be assessing how well the economy enables all New Zealanders to lead ‘the kinds of lives they value and have reason to value’.

Wellbeing economics aims to address issues like unemployment and poverty directly, rather than assuming these problems will be solved automatically with higher economic growth.

On Monday, Saunders contributes to a presentation on ‘Future economic thinking’ at the Local Government New Zealand conference.

Key points from the book

• The purpose of economic activity is to promote the wellbeing of people, and economic policies should therefore expand substantive freedoms so people can lead the kind of lives they value and have reason to value.

• Gross Domestic Product (which measures production) is a limited measure of economic performance. It wrongly focuses policy on the interests of producers rather than on the wellbeing of consumers.

• Wellbeing economics focuses on how people engage in purposeful activities to add value to their wellbeing in households, in communities and in the marketplace.

• The authors call for a shift from a ‘welfare state’ to a ‘wellbeing state’ in which the major aim of central government policy is to expand the capabilities of persons to enhance their own wellbeing.

About the authors
Paul Dalziel is Professor of Economics at Lincoln University and Deputy Director of its Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit.

Caroline Saunders is Professor of Trade and Environmental Economics at Lincoln University and Director of its Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit.

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