Nicola Sturgeon’s wellbeing-focused TED talk references future challenges – including the rise of automation

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has used a TED talk in Edinburgh to argue for the need to change the way we measure the success of nations.

Ms Sturgeon says we need to move away from financial metrics such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to rate the achievements of countries.

Instead, she would like to see equal pay, childcare and mental health as part of a range of progressive measures adopted by governments around the world.

“GDP measures the output of all our work,” she said at the TEDGlobal Summit gathering at the Edinburgh International Convention Centre last week. “But it says nothing about the nature of that work, about whether that work is worthwhile or fulfilling. It puts a value, for example, on illegal drug consumption, but not on unpaid care. It values activity in the short term that boosts the economy, even if that activity is hugely damaging to the sustainability of our planet in the longer term.”

“When we reflect on the past decade of political and economic upheaval, of growing inequalities and when we look ahead to the challenges of the climate emergency, increasing automation and an ageing population, then I think the argument for, the case for, a much broader definition of what it means to be successful as a country, as a society, is compelling.”

In 2018, Scotland ‘took the initiative’ in establishing a new network – the Wellbeing Economy Governments group – comprised of Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand – or ‘SIN’ for short, she said jokingly – in order to challenge the focus on the narrow measure of GDP.

“The objective of economic policy should be collective wellbeing,” she added.

“What do we value in the communities that we live in, what kind of country, what kind of society do we really want to be – and when we engage people in those questions and finding the answers to those questions, then I believe that we have a much better chance of addressing the alienation and disaffection from politics that is so prevalent in so many countries across the developed world today,” Sturgeon added.

Sturgeon said the foundations of Scotland’s approach lay in a policy document first published in 2007; the National Performance Framework contains diverse national indicators such as income inequality, the happiness of children, access to green spaces and housing.

“None of these are captured in GDP statistics but they are all fundamental to a healthy and a happy society,” she said.

The First Minister referenced the work of the Scottish economist Adam Smith, who wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that the value of any government is “judged in proportion to the extent that it makes its people happy”.

She added: “I think that is a good founding principle for any group of countries focused on promoting wellbeing.”

The prestigious summit, part of the TED network, which has previously been held in Canada, took place at the EICC from 21 to 25 July 2019, bringing together up to 1,300 members of the international TED community.

The bid to bring the event to Edinburgh was led by the EICC, VisitScotland Business Events, Convention Edinburgh, and Scottish Enterprise, backed by support from the Scottish Government, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Social Bite, Festivals Edinburgh, Edinburgh Science Festival and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. All worked together to show why the capital is the ideal place to host this gathering of world-leading thinkers.

View the full talk here.