Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Well being and wealth.

It is all too easy in this day and age to take well being and wealth as being one and the same, however this is demonstrably not the case!

An index of well being needs to include measures of health, environment and social justice as well as wealth creation. These facets of sustainable  (and hopefully more contented) ways of living should not be mutually exclusive, in fact they should be quite inclusive.

There are numerous indexes and a plethora of criteria by which a numeric or quantifiable determination can be arrived, however the basic principles remain the same for each. A recent Happy Planet Index  (HPI), placed Costa Rica at the top of the list, which may surprise many of you. The HPI is based on three main headings: experienced well being, life expectancy and ecological footprint. The index scores highest where (using global data) long life expectancy is achieved with higher experienced well being for the most efficient use of resource.

Other indexes, based more upon a sustainability approach, use Life Cycle Assessment to derive benchmarks for comparison, whilst others use more direct surveying techniques. Either way we can draw some general conclusions from information that has already been published.

Firstly, it is not always the wealthiest and most developed economies that score the highest. This may well be as a result of quality vs quantity of GDP, as witnessed by a study conducted on quality of life in the Chinese provinces.

Secondly, it appears evident that countries with progressive taxation models (this includes many Nordic states) perform better in terms of contentment and show fewer social stresses (i.e. crime). A study by the Association for Psychological Science found that flattening the tax system risked flattening social well being. This has been said to be because it squeezes the middle class and polarises the population between the haves and have nots. This is avoided through more progressive taxation as it creates a wider middle class, reducing disparity in earnings and affording greater access to good s and services.

Lastly, it seems apparent that vibrant and efficient democracies also perform better, probably because it affords a better sense of belonging, control over important issues and protects human rights.

See link to HPI tables (Wiki):

Other indexes will produce different results and may be skewed slightly by the criteria used, however this may be with good reason to reflect slightly different aspects according to stage of development, objectives or administration.

From the scores, it is all too obvious that our current model is not delivering and that we are living beyond our means, in ecological terms, however there are good models and  improvements to be gleaned from the scores, hopefully we can all learn from these.

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