New Zealand shifts government focus from growth to ‘well-being’

New Zealand has ditched gross domestic product – the traditional measure of national health and economic growth – in favor of a new approach the country’s prime minister said prioritizes citizens’ well-being.

“We need to address the societal well-being of our nation, not just the economic well-being,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. Ardern added that the government plans to implement the new measures starting this year, according to a WEF news release.

The renewed focus on national well-being appears targeted at widespread dissatisfaction gripping electorates world-wide and which are widely believed to have fueled recent political upsets such as the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump to the United States presidency and the “Brexit” vote only a few months prior. As advanced economics continue to deliver sluggish growth and political stagnation, citizens will become increasingly agitated; and GDP growth does little to improve the average person’s life, many economists believe.

“Political outcomes in the United States and many other countries in recent years have reflected the state of insecurity in which many ordinary citizens live, and to which GDP pays scant attention. A range of policies focused narrowly on GDP and fiscal prudence has fueled this insecurity,” wrote Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz last year. “Better metrics would, at the minimum, weigh these costs against the benefits, possibly compelling policymakers to accompany such changes with others that enhance security and equality.”

New Zealand’s “well-being” focus will mean, in practice, that issues such as child poverty will be considered when drafting new policies. The government no longer will be content to drive economic growth if metrics such as hunger, child poverty, and other societal ills remain unchanged, Ardern said.

New Zealand is the latest of several countries to incorporate happiness into policy making. Dubai unveiled a “Smart Happiness Index” last year, which aimed to assess city manager performance based on “happiness” or well-being gains made versus funds spent.

“Our people are telling us that politics are not delivering and meeting their expectations. This is not woolly, it’s critical,” Ardern said.


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