Questioning the Well Being Index

Blog, Economy, Les Routledge

I do not know how this well being index can conclude well being has not increased in 20 without referencing what people are consuming.

Unlike 20 years ago, a new car today is more affordable and lasts a lot longer than it did 20 years ago. For example, today I drive a truck that is 25 years old. That would be the equivalent of driving a 1965 model in 1990. which was quite rare. My 10 year old van has 100,000 miles on it and it is still in very good operating condition compared to the car I had in 1990 that was ready for the scrap heap at 90,000 miles. Is that not an improvement in well-being?

I wonder if they have looked at the number of square feet of living space per person? I think that one has increased as well.

What about home appliances? Do the big screen tv’s, gaming devices, computers and personal communications devices not count? What about vastly expanded media content for reduced prices (compared to renting or buying CD’s)?

Are clothes and shoes not more affordable today?

If one looks at food, is the real net food budget any higher or has there been a massive shift towards prepared and restaurant food that bundles the underlying product with a value-added service?

What I am trying to get at is that a dollar goes a lot further today in inflation adjusted terms than it did 20 years ago. Quality and affordability have both increased, primarily because of lower trade barriers and increased trade.

In terms of working more, I again disagree. I believe it is quite possible today to run a household on one wage earner if one is prepared to live in a comparable living standard to 1990. That standard of living in turn is significantly better than the standard from 1970 and much, much better than 1950. Indeed, I would suggest that a middle class household living standard from the early 1970’s would today be considered near the poverty line.

Down here on the farm, life has become much easier than it was in 1970 or even 1990. Work is much more automated than it was then and as a result, I can operate my farm today with 1/3 of the labour that the equivalent operation required in 1970. Is that not an improvement?

Some things have become more expensive as a percentage of household spending. In education and health care, I believe the driver is that we consume more. Would education be a big drag on the economy and government spending if we returned to a state where less than 20% of people attended university? Health care would be much less costly if we returned to the standard of care from the 1980’s, albeit at a cost of increased mortality and morbidity of equivalent aged people. Even pensions would be more affordable if people today worked the same percentage of life-time years instead of retiring at a younger age than they did in the past.


I challenge anyone in their personal life to return to the consumption and spending patterns of 1990 or 1970 and claim after that experience that we are not better off today. However, I do agree that we may not be “happier” on average because all of us expect more and more.