Thursday, October 4, 2018

We don't need your damned 'wellbeing'

New Zealand's socialist-nationalist-environmentalist government is planning on introducing a Wellbeing budget and a Living Standards Framework (LSF) to as the rationale for its policies. The idea is that GDP alone is not a sufficient measure of a country's performance and that rather than focusing on purely economic factors, governments should also measure a range of social, cultural and environmental factors. The more I have learned about this change, the more it worries me.

Our motley coalition government is not the only one to adopt this fancy. Many Western governments, particularly in Europe, are rushing to ascribe wellbeing benefits to their policies. It is hardly surprising that the international movement towards adopting wellbeing measures has occurred during the period of anaemic economic growth since the global financial crisis in 2007 - in an era of subjectivism and relativism, if you don't like the results, you simply change the measures.

The real concern about these measures is that they presuppose government interference in every area of our lives. They assume a left-wing view of the world, i.e. that the government intervention can fix all of society's ills, but you could also argue that they are based on an extreme right-wing, nationalistic view that the collective good of the nation state is of the utmost importance. The measures become a means to entrench these world-views. For example, it is proposed to include the proportion of Maori language speakers in the measures, which is likely to lead to the entrenchment of policies such as compulsory teaching of Maori in schools (which I wrote about in a previous post).

What you don't see in this framework is any reference to individual freedom - unless it is to the pseudo 'freedoms from' discrimination and victimisation. I believe that individual freedom is the sine qua non of personal wellbeing and that any policy framework that ignores this is suspect. Focusing on government-led outcomes rather than individual freedom itself is at best counterproductive and at worst mendacious.

The government often makes matters worse. For example, one of the measures of social wellbeing they are considering is loneliness. Presumably, people like the elderly living alone will be surveyed to see whether they are lonely and the government will develop policies to address excessive loneliness, such as having a social worker call on isolated people once a week. But like all government policies, this is likely to have unanticipated and counterproductive consequences, with friends and relatives feeling they do not have to visit the elderly quite so often because they know a social worker will be regularly calling.

There is an old saying that 'what gets measured gets done'. The corollary of this is that if you can set the measurements, what you want gets done. A government that wants to interfere in every area of our lives will adopt measurements that apply to every area of our lives. Personally, I don't want a government that concerns itself with whether I am lonely or not because I consider this to be none of the government's damned business.

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