Wellness is a thing

Michael Fry may not be familiar with the word ‘wellness’, but that in itself does not bring it into the kind of disrepute that he implies. In fact, the term has been around since the mid-17th century; although, as with many words, its meaning has undergone some change through usage, it originally served as the most obvious antonym of ‘illness’. That it’s meaning has changed somewhat should not surprise us, as language is organic. It evolves.

I have another word for Michael to add to his vocabulary; ‘misoneism’ meaning hatred or dislike of what is new or represents change. From this, we get the word ‘moneist’, which may or may not describe him. Also, ‘moneistic’, which would certainly apply to his attitude.

Michael informs us that “there is not a professional economist in the world who places absolute, unquestioning faith in GDP figures”. I’m glad about that. Because there are a fair few of us who are disinclined to place absolute, unquestioning faith in economists. When he assures us that “economists are always wary of placing total trust in them [GDP measures] “, many of us read this as “economists are always wary of being pinned down to any number”. They do like a bit of deniability. And who can blame them? If John Kenneth Galbraith is to be believed – and he surely is – then “the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable”.

The difference between economics and real science is that, whereas the latter seeks to arrive at conclusions which take account of all the facts for which there is evidence, the economist is better known for omitting facts that are in evidence but which don’t sit comfortably with the desired conclusion. An eversion to the holistic flows naturally from this.

Measuring wellness may be more difficult than counting beans. But I suspect the biggest problem for economists is that it is an attempt to include in estimations of economic performance some of the things that economists prefer to leave out. The National Wellness Institute lists these factors as the six dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. In a sense, wellness is a measure of the effects on people of economic models in operation.

To me, this seems eminently sensible. Imagine if you designed and built a car which performed exceptionally well on all the customary measure – fuel consumption, emissions, acceleration, carrying capacity – but which, in use, cause the occupants to die of asphyxiation. Would it not be advisable to take account of the effect on people in such circumstances?

Wellness may be a novel concept to Michael Fry, but it is simply a convenient label for the aggregate of all the things we might take into account if when somebody asked: “How are you?”, we attempted to provide the most honest and comprehensive answer possible. (Don’t do this at home, children. People will think you’re weird.) It may seem like it’s strictly for the New Age crystal huggers and Gwyneth Paltrow worshippers, but it’s actually fundamental to a proper understanding of economic performance. Wellness may be thought of as one of the outputs of the economy. We should be striving to maximise wellness in the same way, and for the same reasons, as the widget-maker tries to maximise her output of widgets.

Experience and history tell us clearly enough why economists would baulk at their models being assessed in terms of the effect they have on people’s wellbeing. To date, they haven’t had too much success with mechanical economic systems in which people are regarded as mere production and consumption units and any wellness deficiency attributed to their inadequacy rather than being accounted for as a function of the economy.



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5 thoughts on “Wellness is a thing

  1. I admire your willingness to hold your nose and imbibe from Fry’s imbecilic diatribes. Sometimes I tell myself that I should give his words a chance, but I usually get no further than the first paragraph before finding something better to do with my time. This morning the headline was enough to put me off. So thank you for doing the work for me, confirming once again that Fry is disconnected from the material reality with which he so wishes economists are able to connect him. I continuously wonder why Fry is given space in The National. I understand that there are conservatives who support independence, and that their voices should be given space, but Fry is an idiot and not even a very good writer. I wonder what the point is of giving him a weekly column, there are surely more articulate, more broad minded conservative commentators out there.

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    1. As an independence advocating voice from the pro-market centre-right, Michael Gray makes a valuable contribution to the constitutional debate. We shouldn’t listen only to people with whom we agree. Often, it is those with whom we have little in common and few areas of agreement who do most to stimulate the mind.

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      1. I agree. Fry simply does not challenge me. I would prefer somebody more intelligent and articulate, which I think would strike a more believable balance.

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  2. If Fry’s views were coherent and based on solid research and logic I would agree with you Peter, but like Duncan I think it’s time for Fry to go and pollute some other daily journal and not one I pay for.

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  3. I am not even sure what you are referring to here – an article by Michael Fry possibly – but what a fabulous article! Words I’ve never heard of and your car manufacturer analogy is fabulous. (Yes, I am that shallow)

    I would agree that economists avoid taking wellbeing into consideration on purpose, because they can make so much more money (for themselves and for others) if they ignore it – but, yes, it should be included in any economic model (as it does in most Green New Deals) as standard. How do you curb greed when it benefits them so much in the current system? I can’t think of any true incentives, when it is the self same people that make the laws and control the government that benefit from greed. The French Revolution keeps popping into my head, but there surely must be better solutions to changing economic thinking, because I very much doubt that is the best lesson from history!

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