Measuring Wellbeing in Theory and Practice
David Gruen, Shane Johnson, Stephanie Gorecki
Australian Treasury, Canberra, ACT, Australia

There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the concept of progress and how it is measured. Thispaper explores the role that concepts of wellbeing and sustainability play in informing a framework forpublic policy analysis with a particular focus on the Australian Treasury. Treasury’s policy objective, set outin its mission statement, is to improve the wellbeing of the Australian people. As such, sustainable socialprogress or improving wellbeing, and how it is measured, are of central concern to the work of the Treasury.

Wellbeing relates to the aspects of life that people and societies value. It is a multi-dimensional conceptincorporating notions of individual freedoms, opportunities and capabilities. However, wellbeing should notbe considered in isolation. Sustainability and intergenerational effects are important as the wellbeing of aparticular generation is determined by the stock of resources inherited from previous generations, in additionto the choices that generation makes, and what they leave behind for future generations.

Improving the measures of wellbeing, and sustainability, is a complex task. For policy choices anddecisions to have a reasonable prospect of improving wellbeing and sustainability, we need to base them onreason, as well as empirical evidence. Theory and practice need to work together. If we focus on the wrongmetrics, or use them without acknowledging their limitations, they can lead us down the wrong path.

Keywords: Wellbeing; Sustainability

Biography: David joined the Australian Treasury in January 2003, holding the positions of General Manager, Macroeconomic Policy Division, and Chief Advisor before becoming Executive Director in May 2008. Before joining Treasury, David was Head of Economic Research Department at the Reserve Bank of Australia, May 1998 to December 2002. He worked at the Reserve Bank for thirteen years, in the Economic Analysis and Economic Research Departments.

With financial support from a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship, David was visiting lecturer in the Economics Department and the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University from August 1991 to June 1993.

Before joining the Reserve Bank, he worked as a research scientist in the Research School of Physical Sciences at the Australian National University. He holds PhD degrees in physiology from Cambridge University, England and economics from the Australian National University.