For the past week or so, skimming the morning papers and listening to the news, I’ve been asking myself – who is thriving in the UK today?
Is it Carillion workers, pensioners or suppliers contemplating unemployment, deficits or unpaid bills? Or their former bosses and the auditors who made millions from the business? Is it the owners of 23,000 UK homes based in tax havens?¹ Or the countless people living in the overpriced rental sector?
The university chancellors earning eye-watering salaries? Or indebted students struggling with mental health problems? Or any of the new billionaires created every two days in 2017?² Or the 99% who still await some of that wealth ‘trickling down’?
In the UK we persist in believing that if we reward the highly-paid decision makers enough, they will make better decisions for the masses. In the current paradigm though, they are often making the ‘right decisions’ already. A system whose end goal is ever increasing economic growth is designed to reward actions that promote that and little else. It is a system that rewards selfishness and short termism because both can drive profit.
But as I read headline after headline, I keep thinking, what if we paid salaries based on rewarding those whose work or decisions help us to thrive? Who would be on today’s rich list? If we elected those who put people and planet so far ahead of personal PR that we forget what ‘spin’ means – who would be on our front benches?
If our measure of success or prosperity is unfettered growth, wealth in the hands of a tiny minority of faceless individuals or unparalleled inequality and degradation of the planet – then we are indeed succeeding to prosper.
As Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz put it, “If we use the wrong measures we will strive for the wrong things”.
So how do we go about finding new and better ways to measure what’s worthwhile, so we can start to make what matters count?
It seemed a huge and impossible question back in 2010 when I co-founded Happy City and it hasn’t diminished in size or importance in the intervening years.
Yet today’s headlines remind me of why we bothered. We were inspired and disheartened in equal measure by the sheer number and diversity of projects and initiatives all around the globe, that were coming up with ever more innovative ways to deal with the symptoms of system that is delivering ever more inequality and planetary damage. So much wisdom, so much enterprise, so many hearts and minds pouring their efforts into positive change. But without a challenge, indeed an alternative, to the current ‘growth at all costs’ narrative and measures of progress, the symptom-solvers will never be out of work and the headlines may never change.
We overcame the size of the challenge by breaking it down geographically. Creating a radical but practical solution that can be used right now in local places across the UK. Our Thriving Places Index is designed to help decision makers, not with more money in their pension pots but with a new set of goals and new ways of measuring success that puts the wellbeing of people, place and planet centre stage. Launched earlier this week, we hope it is a small step in the direction of measuring what matters and making it count.
Let’s hope we start judging and rewarding our leaders, based on how well they do at making that measure grow, year on year. Now those are headlines I’d love to read.
Liz Zeidler, chief executive, Happy City