Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series,
Trade Union Institute for Economic Research

No 171: Conceptualizing and Measuring Quality of Life for National Policy

Sten Johansson
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Sten Johansson: Trade Union Institute for Economic Research, Postal: FIEF, Wallingatan 38, SE-111 24 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: The interests in social indicators and social reporting started in the 1960s with the new awareness of poverty in the midst of affluence. In this paper I first discuss the poverty concept and its implication for social policy strategy. The poverty concept should be but one in a system of concepts that throws light on the whole distribution of income and wealth and how income from labor as well as income from capital is generated. The central concepts in the system are income and economic standard, which I explain in different perspectives on command over resources. The command-over-resources concept is used to get from a narrow concept of material welfare that can be measured in money to a wider concept of welfare that includes the universal common social concerns. I confess to being intrigued by the fact that a list of social concerns can be agreed upon that seems to be relevant across cultures, political systems and times. I suggest that this surmised universality springs from the great “life projects” that all humans face over the life cycle. I then discuss the role of social indicators and social reporting as continuous information on these common concerns in the context of an epistemology of the democratic process. Social reporting would serve the democratic process best if it answers “how it is” and leaves the answers on “how it ought to be” and “what should be done” to come about through discussion among citizens.

Keywords: Quality of life; welfare; poverty; income distribution; democratic process

JEL-codes: D30; D31; I31; I32

18 pages, October 30, 2001

Note: To be published in special issue of Social Indicators Research, 2001

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