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Towards an economics of well-being


  • J. Allister McGregor
  • Nicky Pouw


There is growing concern that presently dominant frameworks in economics no longer provide a way of adequately addressing and analysing the problems of today’s globalising and rapidly changing world. This article makes a number of fundamental proposals about how we might reframe economics to move it towards a clearer focus on human well-being. It develops arguments for a change in the basic ontological proposition and for the need to see ‘the economy’ as an instituted process of resource allocation. From this viewpoint, economics is then the study of resource allocation decisions and processes and the forces that guide these: from a human perspective it is about understanding who gets what, under what conditions and why? The paper argues that a pluralist approach to understanding the economy is necessary for political, analytical and technical reasons. Drawing on a range of contributions to heterodox economics, the paper argues that if we are to understand current crises and challenges, then our understanding of resource allocation in society must have a broader scope than is present in mainstream economics; it proposes a rethinking of economic agency and provides a critique of rational behaviour that is founded in shifting the emphasis from a narrow conception of welfare to well-being. Acknowledging human well-being as a multidimensional concept, the relationship between the well-being of the person and the collective is reconsidered and the methodological implications for the issue of aggregation are discussed. The article seeks to serve as a point of departure for formulating new research questions, exploring the relationships between human well-being and economic development and analysing economic behaviour and interactions in such a way as to bring us closer to peoples’ realities on the ground.

Suggested Citation

  • J. Allister McGregor & Nicky Pouw, 2017. "Towards an economics of well-being," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Cambridge Political Economy Society, vol. 41(4), pages 1123-1142.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:41:y:2017:i:4:p:1123-1142.

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    Cited by:

    1. Havrda, Marek & Klocek, Adam, 2023. "Well-being impact assessment of artificial intelligence – A search for causality and proposal for an open platform for well-being impact assessment of AI systems," Evaluation and Program Planning, Elsevier, vol. 99(C).
    2. Maximilian Tallgauer & Christoph Schank, 2023. "Rethinking Economics Education for Sustainable Development: A Posthumanist Practice Approach," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 15(11), pages 1-14, June.
    3. Rasmussen, Laura Vang & Fold, Niels & Olesen, Rasmus Skov & Shackleton, Sheona, 2021. "Socio-economic outcomes of ecological infrastructure investments," Ecosystem Services, Elsevier, vol. 47(C).
    4. O’Leary, Nigel & Li, Ian W. & Gupta, Prashant & Blackaby, David, 2020. "Wellbeing trajectories around life events in Australia," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 499-509.
    5. Arno J. van Niekerk, 2020. "Inclusive Economic Sustainability: SDGs and Global Inequality," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 12(13), pages 1-19, July.
    6. James Wangu & Ellen Mangnus & A.C.M. (Guus) van Westen, 2020. "Limitations of Inclusive Agribusiness in Contributing to Food and Nutrition Security in a Smallholder Community. A Case of Mango Initiative in Makueni County, Kenya," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 12(14), pages 1-23, July.

    More about this item


    Well-being; Pluralism; Ontology; Sustainable development; Poverty; Inequality;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • A1 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics
    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development


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