Measuring and Promoting Wellbeing

How Important is Economic Growth?
Edited by:
ISBN (print): 9781925021318
ISBN (online): 9781925021325
Publication date: April 2014
Imprint: ANU Press

Australia continues to be at the forefront of international work on measuring and promoting wellbeing, Ian Castles being a significant contributor over the last forty years as an official and academic. This book combines a selection of Castles’ important work with contemporary research from a range of contributors.

The material is in four parts:
1. The role of economics in defining and promoting wellbeing
2. Measuring real income and wellbeing
3. Measuring inequality
4. Climate change and the limits to growth.

The issues canvassed are both long-standing and current. Does economic growth contribute to wellbeing? How different is income to wellbeing? How do we measure societal wellbeing and take its distribution into account? The book will be of value to all those looking to informed debate on global challenges such as reducing poverty, sustaining the environment and advancing the quality of life, including politicians, commentators, officials and academics.


In The Australian Financial Review (24-27 April 2014), Verona Burgess explores the ANZSOG-ASSA-ANU Press publication Measuring and Promoting Wellbeing: How important is economic growth? 

Burgess writes “Now the forward-thinking legacy of a former Australian Statistician and secretary of the Department of Finance, Ian Castles, is being commemorated in a new ANU Press book.” (p15)

The review includes an overview of Castles’ life and the key themes of his work: “Here and elsewhere, Castles had also challenged populist critics of the economics profession (and the public service) in their portrayal of economists as conservative protectors of the status quo and supporters of inequality.” (p15)

Burgess concludes by quoting Michael Keating: “Ian reached his conclusions by examining the evidence, not by conviction.” and adds “Relevant to government policy in 2014? Not half.”

(Burgess, Vanessa. “Castles essays timely as ever”. Review of Measuring and Promoting Wellbeing: How important is economic growth?, edited by Andrew Podger and Dennis Trewin. The Australian Financial Review, 24-27 April 2014, p15.)


In his launch speech (subsequently published on his blog and in The Canberra TimesPanorama, Saturday May 17, 2014, pp 22-23), Andrew Leigh introduced Ian Castles, the author at the core of Measuring and Promoting Wellbeing: How important is economic growth? as one of Australia’s “great statisticians”. He writes:

Perhaps not everyone has a rock-groupie reaction to meeting a former Australian statistician. But when I read this 800-page tribute to Ian Castles, I realised that at least 20 people shared my view of him. The authors are an impressive team, and I congratulate them – and particularly editors Andrew Podger and Dennis Trewin – on the breadth of scholarship contained in this book.

Leigh goes on to write:

But the book does much more than to give two thumbs up to growth.  It includes a critique by Jonathan Pincus of Treasury’s wellbeing framework (and a counter-view from David Gruen and Duncan Spender). Pincus is right about the challenge of measuring capability, but my view on the framework is a bit like Churchill’s on democracy – that it’s the best we’ve yet found.

You will find in these pages a data-rich discussion of trends in inequality from Rob Bray, and a careful analysis of how redistribution affects inequality from Peter Whiteford. The latter concludes with the following rousing sentence: ‘However, despite the work of the Canberra Group and national and international statistical agencies in significantly improving the comprehensiveness of household income surveys, questions remain about the methodology of comparative analysis of welfare state outcomes.’ Now there’s a sentence to make a statistician shout ‘huzzah!’.

The full text of Leigh’s speech can be found at his blog: “Launching “Measuring and Promoting Wellbeing”, in honour of Ian Castles.”

(Andrew Leigh. “Launching “Measuring and Promoting Wellbeing”, in honour of Ian Castles.” Andrew Leigh MP. Web. 27 May 2014.)