Today the Green Party has announced it’s first manifesto commitment: to overthrow the idea that GDP growth is the true measure progress.
Happy City have been shouting this message from the rooftops for a decade, so it is heartening to see a national party putting it front and centre of their rallying call for change.
It’s long been clear that you can’t challenge the dominant measure of success for the entire western world without offering a viable alternative. The Green Party’s suggestion is The Free Time Index – a measure of the amount of time we have to do with as we choose – with family, friends, community.
This is a large step in the right direction. Instead of asking “are we consuming more each year” (as GDP growth does) it is attempting to ask “are we improving our lives more each year” which is surely a stronger measure of progress that reflects much more of what really matters to people’s lives.
However, having worked on developing new measures of progress for over 10 years, and spoken to people from every corner of UK society as well as people on numerous global stages, I’m not sure that this welcome ‘step’ goes far enough.
Free Time, like any single indicator, is only a proxy for our wellbeing. Wellbeing is dependent on a wide range of things, from meeting our basic needs, to our health, our housing, our sense of security, community, belonging and worth. Choosing any ONE figure risks, like GDP to hide a multitude of things.
Might we grow the free time of the few and push up the headline figure without improving the lives of those most in need of greater wellbeing? What about those many sections of society who have too much free time already – the underemployed, those with little or no job security in the ‘gig’ economy, the lonely or the homeless? Free time is one ingredient in the recipe for wellbeing, but alone it only tells part of the story.
And is the ambition to endlessly ‘grow’ anything the right one? What is the danger in switching from economic ‘growth for growths sake’, to ‘growth for growths sake’ of free time feels like progress but not a complete breakthrough.
Experts around the world, including those here at Happy City, have worked on ‘beyond GDP’ measures for a long time – and the solutions are out there. Let’s measure and GROW our capacity to thrive – across a meaningful range of different indicators that can tell us about the things that really make life worthwhile in its fullest sense. And let’s put that front and centre of politics and accountability.
This is a bold and courageous policy announcement by the Green Party. We welcome it and invite them and others to work with all of us working for a Wellbeing Economy to build on the best of what’s out there to make this a political reality rather than just a political headline.
If you’d like to explore these ideas in more depth with global experts and local activists, sign up for the forthcoming Economics of Happiness Conference being hosted by Happy City and Local Futures in Bristol on 19-21st October 2018