The country’s “well-being budget” emphasizes citizen happiness over capitalist gain.
By Sigal Samuel
We usually think of a country’s wealth or capital in terms of its financial bottom line: its gross domestic product. But New Zealand challenged the world to assess it in terms of a very different commodity, as the country released the first-ever “well-being budget” .
To Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the purpose of government spending is to ensure citizens’ health and life satisfaction, and that — not wealth or economic growth — is the metric by which a country’s progress should be measured. GDP alone, she said, “does not guarantee improvement to our living standards” and nor does it “take into account who benefits and who is left out.”
The budget requires all new spending to go toward five specific well-being goals: bolstering mental health, reducing child poverty, supporting indigenous peoples, moving to a low-carbon-emission economy, and flourishing in a digital age.
To measure progress toward these goals, New Zealand will use 61 indicators tracking everything from loneliness to trust in government institutions, alongside more traditional issues like water quality.
Ardern, who has spoken of empathy as the trait most needed in political leaders nowadays, said that her government has “laid the foundation for not just one well-being budget, but a different approach for government decision-making altogether.”
This approach appeals to many progressives, but it’s also attracted criticism from some who think it’s airy-fairy marketing spin at best and fiscally irresponsible policy at worst.
“New Zealanders won’t benefit from a government that is ignoring the slowing economy and focusing instead on branding,” said Amy Adams, a lawmaker in the opposition center-right National Party, in a statement. “We’re facing significant economic risks over coming years, but this government is focusing on a marketing campaign.”
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