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← Why governments should prioritize well-being

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Showing Revision 10 created 07/29/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. Just over a mile away from here,
    in Edinburgh's Old Town,
  2. is Panmure House.
  3. Panmure House
  4. was the home of the world-renowned
    Scottish economist
  5. Adam Smith.
  6. In his important work
    "The Wealth of Nations,"
  7. Adam Smith argued,
    amongst many other things,
  8. that the measurement of a country's wealth
  9. was not just its gold and silver reserves.
  10. It was the totality of the country's
    production and commerce.
  11. I guess it was one of the earliest
    descriptions of what we now know today
  12. as gross domestic product, GDP.
  13. Now, in the years since, of course,

  14. that measurement
    of production and commerce, GDP,
  15. has become ever more important,
  16. to the point that today --
  17. and I don't believe this
    is what Adam Smith would have intended --
  18. that it is often seen as
    the most important measurement
  19. of a country's overall success.
  20. And my argument today
    is that it is time for that to change.
  21. You know, what we choose to measure
    as a country matters.

  22. It really matters,
    because it drives political focus,
  23. it drives public activity.
  24. And against that context,
  25. I think the limitations of GDP
    as a measurement of a country's success
  26. are all too obvious.
  27. You know, GDP measures
    the output of all of our work,
  28. but it says nothing
    about the nature of that work,
  29. about whether that work
    is worthwhile or fulfilling.
  30. It puts a value, for example,
    on illegal drug consumption,
  31. but not on unpaid care.
  32. It values activity in the short term
  33. that boosts the economy,
    even if that activity is hugely damaging
  34. to the sustainability of our planet
    in the longer term.
  35. And we reflect on the past decade

  36. of political and economic upheaval,
  37. of growing inequalities,
  38. and when we look ahead to the challenges
    of the climate emergency,
  39. increasing automation,
  40. an aging population,
  41. then I think the argument for the case
    for a much broader definition
  42. of what it means to be successful
    as a country, as a society,
  43. is compelling, and increasingly so.
  44. And that is why Scotland, in 2018,

  45. took the lead, took the initiative
    in establishing a new network
  46. called the Wellbeing Economy
    Governments group,
  47. bringing together as founding members
  48. the countries of Scotland, Iceland
    and New Zealand, for obvious reasons.
  49. We're sometimes called the SIN countries,
  50. although our focus is very much
    on the common good.
  51. And the purpose of this group
    is to challenge that focus
  52. on the narrow measurement of GDP.
  53. To say that, yes,
    economic growth matters --
  54. it is important --
  55. but it is not all that is important.
  56. And growth in GDP should not be pursued
    at any or all cost.
  57. In fact, the argument of that group
  58. is that the goal, the objective
    of economic policy
  59. should be collective well-being:
  60. how happy and healthy a population is,
  61. not just how wealthy a population is.
  62. And I'll touch on the policy
    implications of that in a moment.

  63. But I think, particularly
    in the world we live in today,
  64. it has a deeper resonance.
  65. You know, when we focus on well-being,
  66. we start a conversation
  67. that provokes profound
    and fundamental questions.
  68. What really matters to us in our lives?
  69. What do we value
    in the communities we live in?
  70. What kind of country,
    what kind of society,
  71. do we really want to be?
  72. And when we engage people
    in those questions,
  73. in finding the answers to those questions,
  74. then I believe that we have
    a much better chance
  75. of addressing the alienation
    and disaffection from politics
  76. that is so prevalent in so many countries
  77. across the developed world today.
  78. In policy terms, this journey
    for Scotland started back in 2007,

  79. when we published what we call
    our National Performance Framework,
  80. looking at the range of indicators
    that we measure ourselves against.
  81. And those indicators
    are as varied as income inequality,
  82. the happiness of children,
  83. access to green spaces, access to housing.
  84. None of these are captured
    in GDP statistics,
  85. but they are all fundamental
    to a healthy and a happy society.
  86. (Applause)

  87. And that broader approach is at the heart
    of our economic strategy,

  88. where we give equal importance
    to tackling inequality
  89. as we do to economic competitiveness.
  90. It drives our commitment to fair work,
  91. making sure that work
    is fulfilling and well-paid.
  92. It's behind our decision to establish
    a Just Transition Commission
  93. to guide our path
    to a carbon zero economy.
  94. We know from economic
    transformations of the past
  95. that if we're not careful,
    there are more losers than winners.
  96. And as we face up to the challenges
    of climate change and automation,
  97. we must not make those mistakes again.
  98. The work we're doing here in Scotland
    is, I think, significant,

  99. but we have much, much to learn
    from other countries.
  100. I mentioned, a moment ago,
    our partner nations
  101. in the Wellbeing network:
  102. Iceland and New Zealand.
  103. It's worth noting, and I'll leave it to you
    to decide whether this is relevant or not,
  104. that all three of these countries
    are currently led by women.
  105. (Applause)

  106. They, too, are doing great work.

  107. New Zealand, in 2019,
    publishing its first Wellbeing Budget,
  108. with mental health at its heart;
  109. Iceland leading the way on equal pay,
    childcare and paternity rights --
  110. not policies that we immediately think of
  111. when we talk about
    creating a wealthy economy,
  112. but policies that are fundamental
    to a healthy economy
  113. and a happy society.
  114. I started with Adam Smith
    and "The Wealth of Nations."

  115. In Adam Smith's earlier work,
    "The Theory of Moral Sentiments,"
  116. which I think is just as important,
  117. he made the observation
    that the value of any government
  118. is judged in proportion
  119. to the extent that it makes
    its people happy.
  120. I think that is a good founding principle
  121. for any group of countries
    focused on promoting well-being.
  122. None of us have all of the answers,
  123. not even Scotland,
    the birthplace of Adam Smith.
  124. But in the world we live in today,
    with growing divides and inequalities,
  125. with disaffection and alienation,
  126. it is more important than ever
  127. that we ask and find the answers
    to those questions
  128. and promote a vision of society
  129. that has well-being,
    not just wealth, at its very heart.
  130. (Applause)

  131. You are right now in the beautiful,
    sunny capital city ...

  132. (Laughter)

  133. of the country that led the world
    in the Enlightenment,

  134. the country that helped lead the world
    into the industrial age,
  135. the country that right now
    is helping to lead the world
  136. into the low carbon age.
  137. I want, and I'm determined,
    that Scotland will also be the country
  138. that helps change the focus of countries
    and governments across the world
  139. to put well-being at the heart
    of everything that we do.
  140. I think we owe that to this generation.
  141. I certainly believe we owe that
    to the next generation
  142. and all those that come after us.
  143. And if we do that, led here
    from the country of the Enlightenment,
  144. then I think we create
    a better, healthier, fairer
  145. and happier society here at home.
  146. And we play our part in Scotland
  147. in building a fairer,
    happier world as well.
  148. Thank you very much.

  149. (Applause)