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Sustainability and Well-being Indicators

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  • Neumayer, Eric

Abstract

This paper provides a review and critical discussion of indicators, which attempt to combine the measurement of sustainability with that of well-being. It starts with some commonly agreed definitions of sustainability, showing how most well-being indicators tell us little if anything at all about this issue. Sustainability is most commonly defined in economics as non-declining utility or well-being over time. Yet, due to its future orientation, most indicators of sustainability such as Genuine Savings (GS) have merely focused on the capacity to provide utility in the future, but have not included the measurement of current well-being. Indicators of well-being such as the Human Development Index (HDI), on the other hand, have typically failed to account for sustainability in their measurement of current well-being. The paper then critically reviews the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which are the most prominent examples of an indicator, which attempts to fully integrate the measurement of welfare with that of sustainability into one single indicator. Such an integration, whilst seemingly attractive, is rendered difficult by the fact that what contributes to current well-being need not contribute at all or in the same way to sustainability and vice versa. We also review various proposals of extending a welfare indicator, namely the HDI, with sustainability considerations without full integration of both concepts. All of these proposals suffer from a range of fundamental conceptual problems. As one possible alternative, we propose a combination of the HDI and GS, which holds great promise for an assessment of wellbeing and its sustainability, particularly in developing countries.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER) in its series Working Paper Series with number UNU-WIDER Research Paper RP2004/23.

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Length: 22 pages
Date of creation: 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:unu:wpaper:rp2004-23

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Keywords: Geary-Khamis bias; the Afriat index;

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References

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  1. Smith, Douglas, 2001. "International evidence on how income inequality and credit market imperfections affect private saving rates," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 103-127, February.
  2. Anand, Sudhir & Sen, Amartya, 2000. "Human Development and Economic Sustainability," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 28(12), pages 2029-2049, December.
  3. Castaneda, Beatriz E., 1999. "An index of sustainable economic welfare (ISEW) for Chile," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(2), pages 231-244, February.
  4. Weitzman, Martin L, 1997. " Sustainability and Technical Progress," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 99(1), pages 1-13, March.
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  10. Farhad Noorbakhsh, 1998. "The human development index: some technical issues and alternative indices," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 10(5), pages 589-605.
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  13. Michael Hagerty & Robert Cummins & Abbott Ferriss & Kenneth Land & Alex Michalos & Mark Peterson & Andrew Sharpe & Joseph Sirgy & Joachim Vogel, 2001. "Quality of Life Indexes for National Policy: Review and Agenda for Research," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 55(1), pages 1-96, July.
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  17. Max-Neef, Manfred, 1995. "Economic growth and quality of life: a threshold hypothesis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 115-118, November.
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Dietz, Simon & Neumayer, Eric, 2007. "Weak and strong sustainability in the SEEA: Concepts and measurement," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(4), pages 617-626, March.
  2. Ollivier, TO, 2009. "The usefulness of aggregate sustainability indicators for policy making: What do they say for Madagascar?," MPRA Paper 16607, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Marc Fleurbaey, 2009. "Beyond GDP: The Quest for a Measure of Social Welfare," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(4), pages 1029-75, December.
  4. Rahman, Tauhidur & Mittelhammer, Ron C. & Wandschneider, Philip, 2005. "Measuring the Quality of Life across Countries: A Sensitivity Analysis of Well-being Indices," Working Paper Series RP2005/06, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  5. Brennan, Andrew John, 2013. "A critique of the perceived solid conceptual foundations of ISEW & GPI — Irving Fisher's cognisance of human-health capital in ‘net psychic income’," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 159-166.
  6. Arman, Michael & Zuo, Jian & Wilson, Lou & Zillante, George & Pullen, Stephen, 2009. "Challenges of responding to sustainability with implications for affordable housing," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(12), pages 3034-3041, October.

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