The real cost of eliminating poverty in 2016

What would it cost to eliminate poverty and ensure that each person on the planet enjoyed a ‘living wage’; enough income to meet their basic needs for a descent and good life?

First, the world’s leaders, along with the world’s billionaires, would have to issue a joint declaration of well-being, that all people on the planet are deserving of a sufficient ‘living wage’ that would meet their basic needs for a good life.

What is a living wage? A living wage is the income required to meet the basic needs for a reasonable good life of clean water, good air, good food, comfortable shelter, clothing and some healthy degree of autonomy.

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Why Albertans have a lot to be happy about: Let’s count our blessings

March 19, 2016

Happy oil workers

March 19, 2016

March 20th is world happiness day. How happy are Albertans today given the depressed economic conditions we face?

Should happiness be considered a proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy?

Or should a new economic paradigm based on well-being be the new goal for public policy and a new economic frontier for Alberta.

This week the UN released it’s fourth annual World Happiness Report that ranks 157 countries by their happiness levels. This year Canada ranked 6th overall, falling from 5th place in 2015.

Canada’s average happiness score was 7.40 out of a maximum score of 10 happiness points (where a score of 10 means that people feel they have ‘the best possible life). The top 5 this year are Denmark (7.53), Switzerland (7.51), Iceland (7.50), Norway (7.50), and Finland (7.41). The United States came in at 13, the United Kingdom at 23, France at 32 and Italy at 50.

According to economist Jeffrey Sachs, one of the co-authors of the World Happiness Report along with Canadian economist John Helliwell (University of British Columbia), the happiness survey aims to measure “the scientific underpinnings of subjective well-being.”

I agree with Sachs and Helliwell that it is possible to orient public policy, economic development goals and budgets towards well-being rather than purely maximizing GDP and productivity. I believe it is possible to develop a broader suite of performance indicators that would incorporate metrics of the conditions of well-being of people, neighbourhoods and the land that would balance with conventional economic and financial performance measures.

Why is this important to Alberta? What opportunities exist today with Alberta in its current existential crisis as oil prices have plummeted? Is this crisis an opportunity for Alberta to chart a new course on a new economic pathway? Can well-being become the new operating principle and focus of governments?

In 2014, Alberta ranked 6th in overall life satisfaction; over 92% of Albertans report feeling satisfied or very satisfied with life, according to Statistics Canada. Alberta ranks behind #1 ranked Saskatchewan and #2 ranked PEI, with Ontario and Nunavut at the bottom in life satisfaction.

However, a more recent 2016 poll by Angus Reid of 1,530 Canadians found that only 80% of Canadians considered themselves to be either ‘very happy’ or ‘pretty happy.’ Only 80% of Albertans said they were very happy or pretty happy while 17% said they feel ‘not too happy.’ Roughly 12% of Albertans considered themselves ‘very happy” the lowest percentage in Canada other than Atlantic Canada where only 9% felt they were ‘very happy.’ Around 18% of Canadians regarded themselves as “not too happy.”

These results should be encouraging. Why? Because it seems Albertans remain bullish about life, despite a significant 61% drop in oil prices in Alberta since the high of US$98/bbl in 2013 and a sharp rise in Alberta’s unemployment rate from 4.6% in 2013 to 7.9% in February 2016.

Yet there appears to be rising anxiety and falling mental well-being as suicides are on the rise. Nothing kills happiness more than being unemployed. Statistics show that for each 1% rise in the unemployment rate, the rate of suicide increases by 0.79%. Alberta’s Medical Examiner expects suicides will increase by 30% in 2015 compared to 2014. Suicide statistics for the first six months of 2015 already counted 327 suicides compared to historical annual provincial suicide rates of 500-550.  More people commit suicide in Alberta than are killed in car crashes (about 350 fatalities per year).

Since 2012 Alberta’s number of unemployed rose by 85% from 105,092 Albertans unemployed to 194,300 unemployed by February 2016. This is cause for serious concern about the mental and emotional well-being of Albertans.

Talk to folks on the streets of Edmonton and Calgary and many are stressed and anxious about their short-term future. When will prices recover? When will we get back to the glory days of $90/bbl oil? There are many grumbling about Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government as if government is responsible for international oil markets and prices.

I believe this economic crisis presents a perfect opportunity for Albertans to step back and take stock of the new opportunities that present themselves in the eye of this economic storm. Albertans seem to come up with the best innovations during times of crisis.

In the 1930s the Great Depression left Albertan virtually bankrupt. This gave rise to the innovations of Premier Aberhart and his social credit government that led to the creation of the Alberta Treasury Branch, a genuine public bank similar to the Bank of North Dakota. Today ATB Financial is the largest public bank in North America with over $43 billion in assets. What few Albertans appreciate is that ATB is our bank, a pubic bank. Having our own public bank means we have more financial leverage than any other province. Combining ATB’s assets with our own Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) with over $83.9 billion in investment assets, Alberta is financially asset rich. AIMCo, an Alberta crown corporation which includes the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust ($18.4 billion), is the third largest public pension fund in Canada after the Canadian Pension Plan ($282 billion) and Quebec’s Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) with $248 billion in investment assets.

The sole shareholder of both ATB Financial and AIMCo are ultimately Albertans, through the Minister of Finance of the Alberta Government.

What are the potential options for leveraging the $127 billion in combined financial assets of our most important financial asset, the envy of any other province? How could we begin to invest in the idle and unrealized human, social and natural assets of this province? How could we operate the province based on a balance-sheet approach to ensuring the highest-and-best use of these assets?

Instead of bemoaning the state of Alberta’s economy and low oil prices, it’s time for Albertans to consider new opportunities to leverage the amazing assets we are blessed with. On March 20th, perhaps we can celebrate our gifts, count our blessings, and find a path to enduring happiness.

Mark Anielski is an economic strategist, author of the Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth, and co-founder of the Edmonton-based Genuine Wealth Institute.




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Relationships key to a happy life

Relationships matter more to our happiness and well-being than money, education, genetics, and position in society. I have learned this from studies of well-being and happiness in small communities in Alberta including Leduc and Olds. Strong relationships translate into higher levels of trust and ultimately more resilient neighbouhoods and economies.

I believe a good life is a fine balance of happiness and sadness, with less time wasted on anger and worry and more time in loving relationships and hope.

Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and Zen priest affirms what many of us have known intuitively: that strong relationships contribute to a happy and good life. As director of the longest study on adult life and happiness, Waldinger’s insightful TED Talk profiles what he has learned about what the good life actually looks like. A remarkable 75-year-longitudinal study of a group of more than 740 men has found that strong relationships is the single most important contribution to living a long life.

Relationships aren’t always easy; they can be messy. But the alternative — being lonely — detracts from our happiness. According to Waldinger, 1 in 5 Americans feel lonely.

Waldinger ends with a wonderful quote from Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) who said:

“There isn’t time — so brief is life — for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. there is only time for loving — & but an instant, so to speak, for that.”



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The Cost of Unemployment and Suicide in Alberta

Suicide vs. Unemployment Alberta






Alberta’s Medical Examiner warned that suicides are expected to jump 30% in 2015 reaching 654 suicides. Prior to 2015 suicides average about 500 to 550 per year. That’s far more deaths than car crash fatalities which average around 350-360 per year in Alberta. In the first six months of  2015 there were already 327 suicides.

Is this dramatic rise in suicides related to falling oil prices and a down-turn in Alberta’s economy?

Alberta’s total number of unemployed is expected to jump by 28% in 2015 with an estimated 143,000 men and women currently out of work in November 2015.

Being unemployed is one of the greatest killers of happiness. People need meaningful work to feel dignified.

How does unemployment impact suicide and what is the cost of suicide to our economy?

According to US statistics for 2013, there were roughly 32 suicide attempts and 226 people thinking about suicide for every suicide completed.

The direct and indirect projected economic costs (e.g. medical system cost, lost productivity) of 654 projected suicides in Alberta in 2015 could exceed $811 million.

Read more about this important subject in the following well-being policy note:

Suicide and Unemployment in Alberta

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Why Forests Matter: The Indigenomics of Forests

Here are the notes from last evening’s (November 4, 2015) Nature Conservancy of Canada forum on Why Forests Matter. Other speakers included Brian DePrato, economist with TD Bank, talking about natural capital, poet Lorna Crozier, Andrea Lyall (Aboriginal forester), Dr. Phillip Miller (with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment), and Dan Krauss, a conservation scientist with Nature Conservancy.NCC imageNCC Why Forests Matter

Why Forests Matter: Indigenomics of Forests

My name is Mark Anielski. I am trained as a forest economist and natural capital accountant. I’m also the author of The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth. For 10 years I taught business ethics, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship at the School of Business at the University of Alberta.

I’m now going through the 12-step program for economists, after 25 years of practicing economics. It is my work with First Nations in Canada and inspired by the forest that I am only now beginning to recover from the addiction economists, have had with economic growth and money metrics of progress, like the GDP.

It has been returning back to the forest, as my real teacher, and spending time with indigenous elders that I am learning about a new way of thinking about the economy. We might call this indigenomics or what I call the ‘economics of well-being.’

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