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Working Towards Higher Living Standards for New Zealanders

2  A Brief History of Thinking About Living Standards

What is the highest of all goods achievable by actions? ...both the general run of man and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness... but with regard to what happiness is, they differ.

[Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chapter 4]

People have been thinking about what makes societies 'better off' and struggling with how to define and measure this for at least two millennia. For example, Aristotle, in his ethical treatises, grappled with how to attain eudaimonia, or happiness. He posited that eudaimonia comprises two key dimensions: moral life, which was necessary to attain happiness, and material life, which was necessary to meet basic needs (OECD, 2010c). Today, ideas about living standards are prominent in a wide range of fields of study including economics, sociology, politics, theology, ecology and philosophy. This section briefly canvasses the ideas Treasury has drawn on in the development of the Living Standards Framework.[1]


  • [1]This paper does not try to provide a comprehensive and rigorous account of authors who have addressed these issues. Rather, it seeks to briefly touch on some of the important themes in the literature which have contributed to the development of Treasury's Living Standards Framework.
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