The Steady State Economy Conference

Workshop 5: Measuring Progress / Quality of Life

Question: How can progress towards meeting basic needs and improving the personal well-being of the majority of the population be measured and monitored in a steady state economy?

Why: Our main economic measuring stick, the GDP, is a poor indicator of well-being. Although per capita GDP has more than tripled in the UK since 1950, surveys of life satisfaction indicate that people have not become any happier. In part, this is because GDP does not distinguish between costs and benefits, or quantity and quality, but simply sums up all market-based economic activity into a single number. It counts as positive the increasing cost of crime, pollution, and family breakdown, while failing to account for beneficial activities such as household and volunteer work (where no money officially changes hands).

GDP would not be a meaningful indicator of progress in a steady state economy, where the goal is to achieve sustainable scale, fair distribution, efficient allocation, and a high quality of life. GDP provides little information on whether we are achieving these goals, and therefore new indicators are required.

How: Some indicators that have been proposed to measure progress in a steady state economy include: the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), subjective well-being, healthy life expectancy, educational participation, trust, inequality, and participation in the life of society.

Saamah Abdallah    Saamah Abdallah (Speaker)

Saamah is a researcher at the Centre for Well-being at nef (the new economics foundation) and leads work on alternative measures of progress, particularly the Happy Planet Index and the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. Saamah is interested in how alternative indicators can help us on the trajectory to sustainable well-being in a steady state economy. Saamah’s background is in psychology and psycholinguistics, but he has also completed a Masters in Democracy and Democratisation and has worked in non-formal education. He has lived in the UK, the Middle East, Poland and Spain.

Tom Knowland    Tom Knowland (Chair)

Tom is Head of Sustainable Development at Leeds City Council. His role is concerned with achieving the Council’s corporate priorities for economic, social and environmental improvement, but all at the same time rather than at the expense of each other. Tom joined Leeds in 2002 to establish the Council’s Environment Unit after previous posts with Oxford City Council, Cherwell District Council and sustainable development specialists, CAG consultants. Tom is a full member and also served two years on the Council of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. A Chartered Environmentalist and Fellow of the Royal Society, Tom is also on the editorial board of the sustainable development journal ‘EG’.

Sasha Norris    Sasha Norris (Rapporteur)

Sasha works as a freelance writer and broadcaster with an expertise in the natural environment. She has freelanced for Conservation International, the RSPB, Discovery Channel, the BBC, and The Guardian. Between 2000 and 2004 she produced and presented a weekly thirty minute wildlife show, Wild on Oxford’s Six TV, for which she was nominated ‘Best New Talent’ by the Royal Televison Society. In 2000 she co-edited an Encyclopaedia of Mammals for the Oxford University Press, in 2003 wrote Superkids, 200 ways for kids to save the world for Think Publishing and in 2005 Africa our Home for PACE. Book number four is a critique of modern culture, from an evolutionary perspective in progress. In 2000 she set up a registered charity Siren, which works internationally to inspire people to connect to Ecology through the Arts.

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