This short but thought-provoking book describes a way that New Zealand’s economy could be reorganised to focus on the wellbeing of all its citizens, defined as
The ability to lead the kinds of lives that they value and have reason to value.
There’s a lot of NZ-specific information, but the ideas are universally applicable. The approach is a bit different from the ideas put forth by the usual suspects across the political spectrum. Paul Dalziel and Caroline Saunders believe a market economy is essential, but recognise that it must be managed to allow the markets to deliver their maximum benefit. Even the most free markets are still heavily regulated, most obviously by contract and property law, and this helps us see that regulation is not antithetical to free markets — it is essential.
As for the Big Government versus Small Government debate, Dalziel and Saunders argue that government should be big enough. Government’s job is to do the things that citizens cannot do individually or collectively, and to help them add value to the things they choose to do. But the onus is on citizens to initiate this process and to use this support for their own individual and communal wellbeing. This is a shift from the old welfare state to what Dalziel and Saunders call the wellbeing state.
This is encapsulated nicely in their notes on education:
Educators should help people imagine different futures for themselves.
Imagining different futures is an essential part of wellbeing, especially for children, but you don’t often hear it said. This is a great example of their idea: the government (through the education system) helps children to visualise a future for themselves; but it’s up to the children, their families and their communities to realise that future.
This all reminds me of one of my favourite sayings:
He aha te mea nui o te Ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people, it is people, it is people!
This is the essence of wellbeing economics. The most important thing is not the government; not the market. It is people.