Index of Wellbeing and the Un-Economy


Jim Wallis

Two recent pieces of information give pause to claims that our economies are serving people well in North America and other countries. Jim Wallis, the American evangelical who has long been involved with a group called Sojourners, writes about an “un-economy” that is “unfair, unsustainable, unstable, and is making many people unhappy.”

Elephant in the room

Wallis says that for years growing inequality has been the “elephant in the room” that political and business leaders have not wanted to name. “Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began,” Wallis writes, “the talk about inequality has been greater than I can remember it being for a very long time.”  

The increasing profits flowing to the financial sector, he writes, have created a new class of super-rich financial traders. “And now, when their risk taking, greed, and selfishness created a mess for so many others, we bailed them out and left everyone else to suffer in the economic wilderness of unemployment, home foreclosures, pension losses, deep middle-class insecurity, and rising poverty rates.”

Index of Wellbeing

These comments by Wallis coincided with the release of information from a group called the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which is located at the University of Waterloo. The Index collects 64 indicators to measure progress on how Canadians are faring in areas such as community spirit, education, health, environment, leisure and democratic engagement. One journalist describes the Index as the “alter ego” to the Gross Domestic Product, “measuring the quality of life in society in ways GDP does not.”

Former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow is chair of the Wellbeing advisory board and he says that a generation of economic growth, as measured by a rising GDP, has meant little in the day-to-day lives of Canadians. Between 1994 and 2008 investment and corporate activity was brisk, but the Index shows that quality of life actually deteriorated over that time in areas such as the environment, leisure and culture, and time use. The researchers found, for example, that species abundance had declined while greenhouse-gas emissions rose dramatically over those years. 

Middle class eroding

Romanow says the Index suggests that the middle class is eroding and he warns of coming social unrest unless changes are made. “I think if we continue on this trajectory we’re going to have bigger and bigger disparities,” Romanow says in an interview with Canadian Press, “You can never build a solid political, social and economic community with wide disparities.”

In Canada, as in the U.S. those disparities have been growing for a long time. Family incomes for the vast majority of people in Canada have been stagnant since the 1970s, while most increases in income gains have gone to the richest one per cent of Canadians. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in 2009 Canada’s top 100 CEOs had incomes 155 times higher than that of the average worker.  

Occupy Canada  

The people, many of them young, who have been occupying the financial districts in Canadian and American cities, are angry about the continuing unfairness that exists in our societies. Support, or at least sympathy for their goals has come from some surprising quarters, including Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of Canada. On the other hand, Kevin O’Leary, who appears regularly on CBC Television, has been scalding in his criticisms of the protests. O’Leary, who has become the Don Cherry among economic pundits, is frequently seen promoting his show in a CBC video clip where he says “Greed is good.”    

Faith values  

Jim Wallis, who visited the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City, would beg to differ, albeit from a point of view that O’Leary and others may never have considered. “It’s time to put our faith values forward in the midst of what could become a new global conversation about what a fair, sustainable, stable, and happy economy might look like,” he writes.  

Wallis urges people in his Christian circle to take a potluck meal out to the protestors, then to sit, meet and listen to them. I have seen or heard little to indicate that this is happening among churches – in the U.S. or in Canada. I would be interested to hear what you might know on that score. You can leave a Comment below.














6 thoughts on “Index of Wellbeing and the Un-Economy

  1. Only the willfully blind fail to see that the world’s economies exist only to serve the world’s financial elites. There’s no mystery here! The rich get richer and the poor get poorer because that’s what govenments want to happen. By their fruits you shall know them …

    If greed is virtue, then so are it’s two children, theft and murder. Greed is, of course, also anti-Christian because Jesus preached the care of the poor, not economic cannibalism. So too is the idolatry of profit and the so-called ‘free market’ system which is only free in the sense that the powerful are free to prey on the weak at will.

    The elephant in the living room is the ideology of capitalism and individualism. Those whose consciences haven’t been completely snuffed out often find it necessary to dress up their greed abd avarice in something more socially acceptable.

    And that’s where the so-called ‘Christian right’ comes in. Suddenly wealth is a sign of God’s approval and Christianity is all about ‘Jesus and me’ rather than the necessity of loving one’s neighbour as oneself, or of being in right relationshiop with one’s fellow man and creation. And so the predatory Christian exploiting others for profit creates God in his own image…

    By the way, don’t be surprised that CBC supports the status quo. The CBC is every bit as right-wing as the Globe and Mail and other mainsream media in Canada. The media simply acts as the monkey for corporate organ grinders, and the CBC is no exception.

    Sinclair Lewis said “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Now, more than a half century after his death, Lewis’ statement is prophetic indeed.


  2. It’s heartening to hear that many people in all walks of life are unhappy with growing inequality of income and asset accumulation. It’s too bad that people make up their minds about why inequality is growing before they look into it. I’m disheartened by the lack of proposed detailed solutions.

    The Canadian and US economies are very different. It’s disheartening that so many do not understand important facts such as that Canadian banks neither needed nor received US style bail outs. Some Canadian ways of doing things might be examples others could copy. Canadians should say so and not be un humbly humble.

    In addition to the economic system that produces too few jobs for the number of people looking (thus forcing wages down further), there’s the impact of our culture.

    North Americans have a range of parental realtionship patterns, one of which is linked to increased parental separations in every income range. Parental separations are directly linked, on average, to lower earnings in adulthood for affected children, and lower asset accumulation for adults. (There are some people who separate and recombine with richer people, but not enough of them to affect the pattern.)

    In the US, the number of parental separations are inversely linked to income. In addition to the influence of income, lower income people more often adopt the relationship pattern that is linked to increased separations and the resulting family income issues. Lower income people face a double effect on their incomes and assets, one effect from their economic situation and another effect from their relationship patterns.

    More work needs to be done to separate out how much relationship patterns affect income disparity, and the disparity that is due to structural issues like the lack of jobs and the resulting falls in earnings.

    It seems that there is no one silver bullet that will fix the growing income disparities. Too few people are looking into income disparities with an unbiased view. Where reality would upset support groups, the usual practice is put research money elsewhere. The biases leave the public without the information that we need to evaluate and propose solutions.

    A bit of honesty in context might be required before realistic solutions are possible.


    1. “It seems that there is no one silver bullet that will fix the growing income disparities.”

      It is true that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to income disparity, but that hardly makes the problem intractable.

      We could, for example, begin reducing economic disparities in Canada with a fair taxation system; and then we could stop spending billions on prisons where crime rates are dropping. Scrap those fighter jets and you have several billion more.

      Income disparity in Canada is the directly result of government policies intended to benefit the rich and the corporate sector with tax breaks, incentives, income trusts and other loopholes in the tax system. When did a poor person ever need an income trust that shields income from taxation?

      I have seen no information to indicate that the more money a couple has, the greater their chance of avoiding marital breakdown. To suggest the problem of income disparity is attributabe to the instablity of relationships in our culture simply doesn’t wash.

      It’s time for Canadians to stop looking for quick fixes and avoiding reality. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to figure out a little fairness in the system would help.

      But, of course, the ‘free market’ system has never been about fairness. All that talk about ‘free markets’ and ‘fairness’ is simply a smokescreen that fools the feeble-minded while the rich get on with taking for themselves what little the poor have.


  3. Wealth and Greed certainly do not foster happiness.
    Greed is an unsatisfiable need that increases with the more you have. Wealth is practically useless once your actual needs are met.
    Sharing good fortune with others less fortunate satisfies your conscience when it is done freely with no expectation of reward,
    recognition or return on your “investment”. A world without greed
    and excessive wealth would be more peaceful, respectful, and enjoyable.


  4. Dallas McQuarrie The point is that lower income people choose the relationship pattern that appears to decrease wealth more often than do upper income people. Even with different taxation policies etc, that choice will help to keep them poorer than people who choose another pattern.

    I’d like to see an analysis of what difference changes in taxation would actually make. What are the downsides of those changes? Would the system make enough money from the changes to offset the downsides? Assumptions will not help.

    I think that if people are serious, then consider policies to reduce the number of persons looking for low wage jobs, that is sure to raise wages without the sudden shifts that hurt individuals. Entrenched interests will fight this, and those of us who would like less inequality are not prepared to stand up to them. Until we are, all the talk is hot air.


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