Michael Abrams

Sustainable development has been on the world’s radar for five decades; it was most famously operationalized in the 1987 Brundtland Report as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Over time, we have seen the emergence of paradigms such as the circular economy and degrowth that attempt to provide a model for what sustainable development should look like in real life. These models have had their vociferous proponents but their appeal has been somewhat limited.

In the past ten years, a new meta-model has emerged: the idea of a well-being economy. Inspired partly by Bhutan’s experiment with Gross National Happiness, this model explicitly challenges the commitment to economic growth as measured by the GDP that has been the orthodoxy of economics and international development since the 1980s. Abandoning the goal of growing the economy, it substitutes the goal of an economy that puts the well-being of human populations–communities, states, nations–as its prime directive.

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