Is wellbeing a useful concept for progressives? Charles
Is wellbeing a useful concept for progressives? Charles Seaford Sheffield 17.07.2015 Wellbeing is part of several distinct agendas
Mental health Public health Productivity Education Self-reliance Public service delivery Evidence based policy making ...and (potentially) progressive politics Why? We failed to re-establish the essential character of the Labour party. We developed a dice-and-slice strategy that balkanised the electorate. Labour only wins when it has a unifying, compelling, national popular story to tell. It has only really won in 1945 [a country fit for heroes], in 1964 [on the scientific and technological
challenges of the 1960s] and in 1997 [on economic and social modernisation] when it speaks in deeper, animated language about national prosperity and collective endeavour. [In 2015] we ended up with a cost-of-living, transactional politics. Quoted by Toby Helm Jon Cruddas: this could be the greatest crisis the Labour party has ever faced in The Guardian 16 May 2015 accessable at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/16/labour-great-crisis-ever It can contribute to a compelling story about national prosperity It can contribute to an economics that helps deliver that prosperity The argument in summary Progressives have always used some independent idea of a good life to judge social institutions
It is particularly useful now because we need it market (and other) institutions are being called into question we lack a legitimating alternative narrative or model set and over the last 20 years weve developed a tool kit a rich, empirically based concept of wellbeing (flourishing) measurement - the language of bureaucrats and economics Most of the work is to be done but the promise is great optimising all economic drivers of wellbeing (eg work, community) not just consumption managing trade offs between wellbeing now and in the future (sustainability) Progressives have always had some
independent idea of the good life Rousseau Emile Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Creator; everything degenerates in the hands of man Marx - Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 In creating a world of objects by his personal activity, in his work upon inorganic nature, man proves himself a conscious species-being BUT In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species-life, his real objectivity as a member of the species and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him. Bentham: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain, and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we
ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. However in policy, even on the left, wellbeing has been marginal The traditional progressive view, based on neo-classical economic theory, is that policy should deliver Efficient markets market failures corrected GDP growth Redistribution These intermediate objectives maximise wellbeing and social justice: further wellbeing analysis is redundant Even in public service delivery, the intermediate objectives may be clear, making wellbeing redundant Health policy is designed to produce better health
Education policy is designed to produce skills The main appeal has been demonstrable feedbacks Wellbeing improves health, exam results, productivity But now progressives are questioning market and other institutions The traditional intermediate objectives of economic policy may not deliver wellbeing and social justice Market failures eg climate change too large and politically sensitive to be usefully analysed simply as failures Possible environmental and technological limits to GDP growth Political and economic limits to redistribution Trade-offs between these and other wellbeing drivers
In other areas of policy traditional objectives are also being called in to question Education is not just about skills but also about wellbeing Health policy is partly about positive mental health Planning and cultural policy objectives contested so should be designed to deliver wellbeing So its back to the drawing board Markets remain of course the most efficient way of allocating most resources But how do we manage them? How do we channel capitalist energies effectively?
What does good growth look like? How wellbeing efficient are different forms of economic activity? How do we manage the trade-off between now and the future? What combination of fiscal and structural change is needed? In short what should a modern market economy look like and how do we achieve it? Wellbeing provides the compass Once you open up these questions, relying on traditional intermediate objectives is inadequate The task becomes set new intermediate objectives
construct an economics on how best to achieve them judge trade-offs between them Wellbeing is useful because it can guide the choice of intermediate objectives and decisions about trade-offs And we have a rich concept flourishing Crucially this can be measured allowing integration into economics and bureaucracy Flourishing is measurable, empirical and normative Historically two accounts of the good life predominate in terms of experience and relationship with the world
Experience as championed by Bentham pleasure vs pain Modern version by Dolan sense of purpose and pleasure Relationship as championed by many religions Similar concepts: meaning, virtue, species-being, functioning Modern empirical concept of flourishing combines both Implication is a good relationship causes good experience You can choose which is the source of value! And you can measure it Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale
Life satisfaction a reasonable proxy Flourishing has two elements both of which can be measured Good feelings flourishing Good functioning It is measurably influenced by external conditions and personal resources Good feelings flourishing
Good functioning External Conditions Personal Resources both of which can be influenced by policy Good feelings flourishing Good
functioning External Conditions Personal Resources Policy and it sets in motion a virtuous circle Good feelings flourishing Good functioning
External Conditions Personal Resources Policy This can guide the choice of intermediate economic objectives We can identify the external conditions and personal resources that statistical analysis shows are likely to lead to flourishing Some of these are influenced by the design of the economy and thus become our economic objectives
The evidence is largely based on life satisfaction which is an imperfect measure of flourishing but better than nothing. There are some unsurprising but significant findings Key economic drivers include Income up to a certain level, which varies by society Equality, although the relationship is complex Unemployment is very damaging to wellbeing Insecure employment and economic instability The various components of a good job (in addition to income and security) Long commutes and having to move home to find work These and other impacts can be quantified the analysis
can inform judgements about trade-offs This suggests some broad objectives Stable and secure employment for all should be the primary objective of economic policy All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics 2014 Good jobs in all parts of the country that allow communities to thrive NEF 2013 These may sound old hat but would require real change Many of the findings support traditional social democratic objectives
less a revelation than a reminder But the emphasis on good jobs and community collides with neo-classical economics and the Treasury view From the repeal of the corn laws to the present day, [the Treasury] has tended to favour consumers over producers So good policy requires a different economics a wellbeing economics Part of this is a two stage impact assessment Source: Gus ODonnell et al, Well-being and Policy Both stages of this may be new
Right hand side = the impact of intermediate outcomes on wellbeing Left hand side requires = the impact of policy on these outcomes The right hand side sets
agenda for the left hand side There are feedbacks from wellbeing to some intermediate outcomes 22 This forms the basis for a scientific and potentially popular narrative In this way potentially quite radical change is given a firm theoretical foundation It is also translated into the bureaucratic orthodoxy of
welfare maximisation And the idea of a decent life or a good life may resonate with voters more than traditional social democracy These may boost progressive politicians confidence in the crucial war of nerves with conservatives and perhaps create basis for consensus with progressive business And if it gains acceptance it may help us address sustainability issues Current intermediate objectives make the sustainability trade off hard to manage GDP and Ecological Footprint for 151 countries, and world average 70,000
60,000 GDP per capita (US$) 50,000 Latin America Western world Middle East Sub-Saharan Africa South Asia East Asia Transition States World average
40,000 30,000 20,000 10,000 0.00 1.00 2.00
3.00 4.00 Ecological Footprint (gha per capita) 5.00 6.00 7.00 A wellbeing based economics could make it easier Happy Life Years and Ecological Footprint for 151 countries, and world average
70.0 60.0 Happy Life Years 50.0 Latin America Western world Middle East Sub-Saharan Africa South Asia East Asia Transition States
World average 40.0 30.0 20.0 10.0 0.0 0.00 1.00
2.00 3.00 4.00 Ecological Footprint (gha per capita) 5.00 6.00 7.00 But the work remains to be done
Take the example of trade policy Free trade clearly optimal when objective is to maximise consumption (except under special conditions eg infant industries) Under what conditions will free trade be optimal when the objective is secure, good jobs for all in all parts of the country? or transition to a sustainable economy? Thank you [email protected] (+44) 0 7803086546
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