There has been a push in recent years for governments and statistical agencies to augment the orthodox measure of citizens’ economic welfare (GDP per capita) with something broader. To this end, the ABS has created Measuring Australia’s Progress, which is really just a compendium of indicators drawn from various ABS data releases. Treasury has developed its ‘wellbeing framework‘, which purports to give the department a broader set of criteria to evaluate public policy.

The French, in a typically understated move, commissioned a couple of Nobel prize winners to write a lengthy report on the strengths and weaknesses of various methods of evaluating economic and social progress, and they’ve apparently been lobbying international institutions to move towards a multi-dimensional measure of wellbeing.

Now the OECD has created its Better Life Index, which enables comparisons of the standard of living across countries. I like the approach the OECD has taken here: the index includes a number of indicators of wellbeing, but it’s up to individuals to weight those indicators as they see fit to compare countries based on what factors they choose to value. For example, do you value work-life balance over income? Give it additional weight in the index? Don’t care about the environment? Give it no weight at all! It’s a pretty simple website, but you can have a bit of fun (well, if you’re a nerd) playing around with the data.

The real reason I wanted to link to this index is to highlight a finding that Peter Martin noted in today’s SMH/Age:

We are relatively safe, being half as likely to face assault as is typical in the OECD . But oddly we feel just as much as risk with 27 per cent of us feeling unsafe on the streets after dark, about the OECD average.

 We feel about as unsafe as the inhabitants of the rest of the OECD, despite the fact that we are much safer! This is a striking and puzzling finding. Why are we so anxious?

Are our media outlets more likely to sensationalise incidents of assault (etc), and therefore make Australia seem less safe than it is?

Is there some innate fearfulness in Australian culture that leads people to be more anxious than is justified by the facts?

I don’t know, but I’d be interest to hear some theories.

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