“It’s the economy, stupid”. The infamous words of Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist were instrumental in his ultimately successful campaign to win the 1992 US Presidential Election.  Since then, his slogan has become a mantra for politicians who wish to hone in on what they believe to be voters’ biggest concerns.

The economy is fundamental for wellbeing too. Many people consider the real purpose of the economy should be to deliver wellbeing. As physical beings, our wellbeing depends on congenial shelter, appropriate clothing and regular supplies of the right sorts of food and drink. In our society, we need money to pay for those things. As social beings, we also need money simply to participate in society, whether it be for travel, to chat on social media or just to go to the cinema. Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that people on high incomes generally enjoy a higher level of wellbeing than their poorer compatriots – and that impoverishment leads to a marked loss of wellbeing.

But the economy is fundamental to discussion about wellbeing in another way. It is the perceived failure of the economy and especially economic growth to deliver improved wellbeing that has led to such interest and research in the topic – and in alternative ways of measuring social progress.  If policies to encourage economic growth lead to environmental pollution that threatens people’s health or the climate, people question its value. If the growth fails to create high-paying jobs, leaving many people struggling to get by, while further enriching those whose income and wellbeing is already high, many people question its purpose. If economic growth doesn’t lead to increased wellbeing at all, people question the need for it at all.

At the Network of Wellbeing, we’re very interested in these questions. That’s why we’ll be devoting special attention throughout 2017 to the ways the economy and wellbeing connect and to new thinking on the subject. We want to throw some light on some fundamental questions, including:

  • In what ways, could economic growth improve wellbeing? In what ways, might it be harmful?
  • Are there ways we can improve our wellbeing without economic growth?
  • Is all economic activity equal, in its effect on wellbeing? If not, how could we ensure growth of the right kinds of activity?
  • How will the economy deliver wellbeing when automation replaces a significant proportion of people by machines?
  • Would a fairer distribution of wealth improve wellbeing, and if so, how could that be achieved?
  • In what ways can we improve our wellbeing without damaging the natural world, on which we all depend?

We’ll be asking experts of all kinds to offer their views – on video and through blogs. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing interviews with some of the world’s thought-leaders in new economics. NOW Trustee and the former Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation, Stewart Wallis explains how the current paradigm is ‘unfair, unsustainable and makes too many people unhappy’ – fundamental reasons for a system change. We speak to Professor Tim Jackson of Surrey University’s Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) who defines how an economy with wellbeing at its centre reinvigorates government, giving it a solid reason to act positively on our behalf. We also talk with localism campaigner, Helena Norberg-Hodge who restates the need for thriving local economies plus a host of other thought provoking articles and blogs to really get the grey matter churning.

In the meantime, what do you think? Is the economy important for wellbeing? Is growth an unalloyed good or a blind alley? How can we make the economy work for wellbeing?

Should we expect the economy to meet our needs for wellbeing at all? After all, we don’t expect it to meet our spiritual needs. Is it unrealistic for us all to feel we have a right to meaningful work? Is wellbeing a personal thing that can only be sought individually or does it require us all to build wellbeing together? If the latter, should our society and economy be geared to deliver wellbeing for all?

Share you ideas on our Facebook page or in the comments section below and please do share this article – let’s get the conversation rolling!