Social and welfare issues

Better measures, better policies, better lives


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Conference “Two Years after the release of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Report”

Paris, 12 October 2011
(As prepared for delivery)

Madame Kosciusko-Morizet, Professeur Stiglitz, Mesdames et Messieurs,

C'est un grand honneur de vous accueillir aujourd'hui à cette conférence organisée conjointement par l'Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques (INSEE), le ministère français de l'Économie, des Finances et de l'Industrie, et l'OCDE.

Comme beaucoup d'entre vous, j’étais à la Sorbonne il y a deux ans lorsque la Commission créée par le président Sarkozy et dirigée par les professeurs Stigiltz, Sen et Fitoussi a publié le rapport sur la Mesure de la Performance Économique et du Progrès Social. Le rapport a identifié de vrais défis et inspiré des initiatives dans le monde entier. Je suis ravi de voir de nombreux protagonistes de ces travaux réunis ici aujourd'hui.

Le rapport Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi s’inscrit dans une réflexion plus vaste sur les dimensions et  les mesures du progrès social. Au début des années 2000, nous avons commencé à travailler sur l'importance du capital humain et social pour la croissance économique et le bien-être. Ceci a mené au lancement du Projet mondial «Mesurer le progrès des sociétés". Ce travail a joué un rôle clé pour faire avancer les statistiques et les politiques sur le bien-être au niveau international.

Depuis le premier Forum mondial de l'OCDE, qui s'est tenu à Palerme en 2004, nous avons renforcé notre engagement avec les décideurs, statisticiens, chercheurs, acteurs économiques et sociaux de plus de 130 pays, et continuerons à faire progresser le débat mondial l'année prochaine au quatrième Forum à New Delhi.

Mais doit-on parler de bien-être au milieu d'une crise dévastatrice? Permettez-moi de commencer par quelques mots sur le contexte économique difficile auquel nous sommes actuellement confrontés.

Linking economic growth with broader societal progress: a post-crisis imperative

As you know, growth is losing steam in many of the advanced economies. The OECD’s latest data - revised in September - projects that most G7 economies will grow at an annual rate of less than 1% in the second half of this year.

In this context, one might question whether it is still opportune, and not a distraction, to talk about well-being rather than just focus on economic growth. However, today, even more than two years ago, promoting growth ‘as usual’ is not an option.

People are pushing for change. The recent surge in social movements is a clear call for an economy with a more human face. The prevailing sentiment is that globalisation and economic growth have not benefitted all groups in society. Income inequalities have widened almost everywhere and today, 200 million people worldwide are out of work.

Creating jobs is vital, but it is not sufficient. People aspire to a society that allows them to thrive and prosper. They are also concerned about the environment and the sustainability of natural resources, and their expectations for better governance and institutions are rising. 

At a time when governments around the world are designing strategies to restore long-term economic growth, we need to respond to these aspirations and to link economic growth with broader societal progress.

The OECD is responding with a call for governments to adopt a two pronged strategy: “go structural” and “go social”. Reconciling long-term economic growth and people’s well-being can be achieved if structural policies focus on what matters most to people in advanced and less-advanced economies alike.

Well-designed structural reforms will help create more and better jobs, promote a better work-life balance, foster quality health and education and preserve the environment.  At the same time, governments should implement policies which lift all boats and preserve opportunities for future generations to live a good life. Many OECD countries have embarked on a fiscal sustainability path, but they should think twice before cutting expenditures that are critical for tomorrow’s growth and citizens’ well-being.

The OECD progress and well-being agenda

In the current economic and political context, the progress and well-being agenda needs to be implemented with a sense of urgency by National Statistical Offices and International Organisations such as ours.

Back in September 2009, at the time the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Report was released, we took the firm commitment that the OECD would continue to address these challenges. And the OECD has kept its promise, building on almost ten years of pioneering work.

Last May, we launched the OECD Better Life Initiative. This was one of the highlights of our 50th anniversary Ministerial meeting, chaired by Secretary Hilary Clinton. The OECD Better Life Initiative is the first attempt to bring together internationally comparable measures of well-being for all OECD countries and other major economies. The OECD Better Life Initiative puts the many facets of people’s lives, their needs, their aspirations and their feelings at the centre of policy-makers’ attention. The Initiative also puts a strong focus on inequalities in all dimensions of life, in line with what the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission recommended.


Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz talks about going beyond GDP

One of the central components of the Better Life Initiative is “Your Better Life Index”, an innovative and interactive tool, which enables citizens to rate their countries on those things which make for a better life, according to their personal experience and criteria. The index allows citizens to compare lives across 34 countries, based on 11 dimensions -- housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, work-life balance -- giving their own weight to each of the dimensions.

Since its launch, Your Better Life Index has attracted more than half a million visitors and a million web page visits from over 200 countries. This is a huge success, which testifies to the keen interest and engagement of people around the world. We think it will make a significant contribution to help connect policy-making to human progress.

Our new report How’s Life? that we will launch later today is the other key pillar  of the Better Life Initiative. How’s Life? contains many indicators on different aspects of well-being and quality of life in 40 countries. It adds significant information to Your Better Life Index and offers a more comprehensive picture of people’s lives. Overall, the report shows that life has gotten better in many countries, but also that no country tops the league in all dimensions and that there are still large inequalities in the population.

Poverty and poor education are big barriers to well-being, as it is very much about opportunities people have from their very early years. The report shows that well-being is also about social ties and a strong sense of communities. How’s Life also shows that well-being is about how people feel about their own life. Both subjective and objective aspects matter. This is an area where the OECD is carrying out essential work to improve the current statistical standards. We are preparing international guidelines for measuring subjective well-being on a comparable basis across the world.  

Progress: a moving policy frontier

We at the OECD are very pleased that the well-being and progress agenda has made big advances nationally and internationally in the aftermath of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Report.

National initiatives -- commissions, consultations, roundtables and frameworks -- have been launched in many countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia , New Zealand. Many more countries ranging from Japan to Korea, from Mexico to Columbia, Morocco and India are also involved in such work. At the European level, the Sponsorship Group established by INSEE and Eurostat, proposed over 50 measures to develop well-being indicators for the European Statistical System.

This shows that we are progressing with the challenge of translating better measures into better policies that improve the well-being of people and support progress of societies. Indeed, better measures are not an end in themselves. They bring new issues to the attention of political leaders and provide a new perspective on the necessary focus of policy action.

The political momentum is also building with the G20 call for an improvement in the measurement methods. The OECD, together with other international organisations, has produced a proposal to Chancellor Merkel to advance the measurement agenda on societal progress. We expect that Chancellor Merkel and the French Presidency will propose to include it on the agenda of the forthcoming G20 meeting in Cannes.

Madame la Ministre, Mesdames et Messieurs,
Développer de nouvelles mesures sur le bien-être et le progrès social reste aujourd'hui une priorité de premier ordre. De telles mesures fourniront des réponses à une multitude de questions: comment le monde évolue? Qu'est-ce que les gens considèrent comme le plus important dans leur vie? Comment pouvons-nous aider nos concitoyens à réaliser leurs objectifs et à vivre la vie à laquelle ils aspirent?
A l'OCDE nous nous réjouissons de renforcer notre partenariat avec vous - citoyens, experts, décideurs politiques, collègues des instituts de statistiques nationaux - pour répondre à ces questions importantes et, ensemble, contribuer à rendre la vie meilleure pour tous.

Je vous remercie.